USA Head Coach Eddie O'Sullivan said Wednesday that the short turnaround between Friday's match with Australia and the Eagles' September 27 match with Italy did not influence his selections for the upcoming clash with the Wallabies.
“The short answer for that is no,” O’Sullivan said. “The way our games are stacked, we had Ireland and Russia four days apart and it’s similar to that. There’s four games in 16 days with a big spread in the middle. With the first two we strategized around a big performance on 9/11 against Ireland and a big performance against Russia after that.”
“This is one of those games (against Australia) where we want to put fresh legs on the field and the results against Ireland and Russia didn’t really come into it."
The team O'Sullivan has selected includes all the players who have yet to play in the World Cup, most of whom are starting. Only one starter from the September 15 match against Russia returns, lock Hayden Smith.
"Basically it’s a fairly mixed bag, but what we’re bringing to this game is a lot of guys with a lot of energy who haven’t suited up yet in the World Cup and there’s a chance to let them go in this one to see what happens.”
Australia have picked one of their youngest World Cup teams ever (the youngest faced the USA in 1987). But O'Sullivan expects them to want to make a statement after their poor showing against Ireland.
“No question about it. I think any team that comes off a defeat, the next time out they always want to make a statement. I have no doubt that will be the intent of Australia against us: to show that they are back on track."
As for the Eagles, they are not favored. The two teams haven't met since the 1999 World Cup, when Australia won 55-19, but gave up their only try of the tournament. Such a moral victory might be a good goal for the United States this time around.
“I often tend to look at our performance in terms of how we manage ourselves over the 80 minutes - that we play from start to finish and that we stick to our plans and our systems and, when we’re under pressure, we don’t abandon ship. Particularly staying within striking distance over the last 20 minutes as long as we can and staying on the horse for as long as we can. We set that up against Ireland. That was our starting point really."
That, in part, is why O'Sullivan's teams have played a conservative game with ball retention at the heart of it. As long as they have the ball, the other team can't score.
“The tier-one nations are going to come out of the starting blocks and throw the kitchen sink at us. At times we're going to be a bit punch drunk probably, but we need to just hang in there and keep swinging and stay in the game over the last quarter.
"That’s always the plan when you are boxing outside your weight category and it’s the same for Australia, and I’m not saying it will be easy, but what we will bring to this game, like the first game against Australia, will be a lot of energy.”
Australia struggled at the breakdown against Ireland, and that could be a place where the Eagles try to attack the Wallabies. Certainly they will have to produce the same sort of defensive performance they have trotted out the last few games.
“I think on the broader question of defending, World Cups are usually won on defenses, and I think the teams that have brought the highest intensity to the defensive side of the game have been the most successful in World Cups.
“When Australia come at us they’ll want to create that landscape where they can move the ball around in space and it will be up to us to try to take that away from them. Sometimes you don’t, and then you’ve got to go into scramble and fight for your life to stem the flow. They’ll be a bit more physical and they’ll move the ball a bit quicker, so your systems get tested and stretched a bit more and I’ve no doubt this will be one of those tests again Friday night.
"They'll run it a lot off their half back, they’ll run it off their 10, and if you break down too much they go out the back door and get you in the corner. There’s no mystery to what they’ll do."