U.S. has its David in prop Ainu’u vs. rugby Goliath England


KOBE, Japan — David Ainu’u is, um, David. Dan Cole is Goliath.

That’s one battle that encapsulates the United States. vs. England game at the Rugby World Cup: 19-year-old American prop Ainu’u, with eight test caps and even less top-level club games, vs. the grizzled, vastly experienced Cole, who has played international rugby for nearly a decade and has 90 test appearances for England.

“David is a real, real shining light for us as a team, and for the USA,” U.S. head coach Gary Gold said on Wednesday on the eve of the U.S.′ first game at this World Cup. “He’s a fantastic kid, he’s a wonderful rugby player, an incredibly hard worker and I’m very excited to see him come up against a hugely experienced Dan Cole tomorrow.

He’s hoping the same goes for the entire U.S. team against rugby giant England.

No one expects the U.S. to win in Kobe. The U.S. is 13 in the rankings, England No. 3. The U.S. has never progressed past the pool stage at a Rugby World Cup, England won the title in 2003. Gold guesses England’s team on Thursday at Kobe Misaki Stadium has twice as many test caps as the Americans — and it’s not even England’s strongest lineup. The U.S. conceded 50 points against Ireland in its last game against a Tier One team. England put 50 points on the Irish in warming up for the World Cup.

The stats go on.

“We do come into this game as quite severe underdogs against a very well-equipped England team,” Gold said. “What it does from our point of view is it allows us an opportunity to hopefully show that we have improved, that we can go toe to toe, even if it’s just for large periods of time in the game, with a team like England.”

Obviously, the history of Tier One vs. Tier Two teams at the World Cup is one-sided. But it’s not perfect.

Gold was in a unique position to appreciate Japan’s stunning upset of South Africa, a two-time World Cup winner, in a game turned into a move called the “Miracle of Brighton,” at the last World Cup in England four years ago.

Appreciate? Maybe not the right word considering Gold is South African.

But he was working in Japan that year, in this city, for the Kobe Steelers rugby team. Gold said that outrageous upset has “changed the mindset” of the heavily favored teams against the minnows at Rugby World Cups.

“The reality is we’ve all been there,” he said, “no matter what level you’ve played at, or coached, and you know when you are playing a team that is on paper supposed to be weaker than you.

To complete the connection to Brighton, Eddie Jones, who coached the Japanese then, leads England in Japan in 2019. The English denied they spent any time thinking about Japan 34, South Africa 32, in September 2015.

England opened its World Cup on Sunday by beating Tonga 35-3 in a decent but not overly impressive performance.

“What happened (with) Japan-South Africa holds no relevance to us,” England scrum coach Neal Hatley said. “This is about us, the next step, game two of our World Cup pool. We haven’t looked at anything other than America and preparing for them.”

Where there was consensus was over Ainu’u.

Born in American Samoa and raised in Olympia, Washington state, the kid’s good. In a sign of his great potential, he’s now with top French club Toulouse. Gold said Ainu’u could “comfortably play 100 tests for America one day.”

And it’s probably short-changing him to call him the David in this showdown. At 125 kilograms, the teenager outweighs Cole by a couple of kilos.

“He’ll get the respect that he deserves as a starting international loosehead,” Hatley said. “It’s a great baptism of fire for him.”

World Rugby postponing July test matches

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World Rugby has postponed July test matches involving southern and northern hemisphere nations because of ongoing restrictions on international travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

The sport’s international governing body issued a statement Friday saying the mid-year test window will be rescheduled when cross-border travel and quarantine regulations are relaxed.

New Zealand had been scheduled to play Wales and Scotland, Australia was set to play Ireland and Fiji and South Africa had planned to host Scotland and Georgia. World Rugby said the postponement is due “to ongoing government and health agency COVID-19 directives.”

Bill Beaumont re-elected as World Rugby chairman

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Former England captain Bill Beaumont has been re-elected as World Rugby chairman on Saturday after beating Agustín Pichot, the current vice-chairman.

The sport’s governing body says the 68-year-old Beaumont achieved a first-round majority of 28 votes to 23.

Beaumont says: “I am honored to accept the mandate of the World Rugby Council to serve as the international federation’s chairman once again.”

He begins his four-year term after a council meeting on May 12.

French rugby federation president Bernard Laporte becomes Beaumont’s new vice-chairman.