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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

USA-Russia: The Cold War Revisited in New Plymouth

On Thursday's Rugby World Cup fixture list, the USA Eagles will take on the Bears from Russia. The Russians are making their first-ever appearance at a Rugby World Cup, and with Ireland, Australia and Italy in the group, the Russians have to have this match circled as the one that they can win. It's a pretty safe bet that Eagles Head Coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, has also circled this fixture as the one that HE thinks he has a shot at winning.

The USA and the former Soviet Union have had some memorable meetings in the past, with sport being the back drop to Cold War Politics-particualrly in the 60's and 70's. The meetings have gone from the controversial men's basketball final at the Munich Olympics in 1972 to the iconic photo of Mike Eurozione scoring the winning goal as the USA shocked the formidable Soviet ice hockey team at the 1980 Olympics.

Thursday's preliminary round rugby game will probably be a tight contest, but in rugby, these two nuclear and geo-political heavyweights are going to be classified as minnows. The USA's lone spot in the rugby spotlight was winning gold medals at the 1920 and 1924 Olympics, when they beat France in the finals. With the advent of professionalism in rugby, the gulf between USA Rugby and the top rugby nations only continues to grow, in fact, teams like Japan and Georgia have passed the US by in the world rankings, with the vastly improving Russians looking to pass the Americans by, as well.

The Americans showed a great deal of heart in their loss to Ireland in the first game, in game that was also played out with the memories and emotions of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 maybe helping the Yanks keep the score down against a much more talented Irish side. For the Russians, Thursday's match will be t heir first match in ANY Rugby World Cup. Look for them to come out fast. It seems like a lot of the underdog teams played with a lot of heart in their first matches: Namibia, Japan and Romania gave fits to Fiji, France and Scotland, respectively. The Amricans have won their last 3 matches against the Russians-but all 3 matches were very close, and were played on American soil.

Thursday's match may not have the marquee value of athletic contests in the past between the former Soviet Union and the USA, but for two nations fighting for respect and wins on the rugby pitch, the game at New Plymouth should have a lot of hard-hitting and passion from both sides.

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