US rugby team hopes the harsh lessons start to stick

OSAKA, Japan (AP) — It's now 10 straight lessons and counting for the United States at the Rugby World Cup.

In Japan, the team has referred to its losses as lessons, an experience to learn from. Sunday's in Osaka was a harsh one.

The 31-19 defeat by Tonga was harsh because it extended the Americans' losing run to 10 at the World Cup, equaling the team's worst ever at the tournament. Harsh because it came against a team that's in the same second tier of rugby as the U.S., not a top-tier giant of the game. And harsh because the U.S. was leading at halftime and had a chance to extend its lead early in the second. Then, almost in an instant, the game was gone.

Up 12-10, the U.S. kept hold of the ball through nearly 20 bruising phases in its final Pool C game and was a meter from the Tongan line. The ball was spilled, the Tongans counterattacked from 100 meters, and suddenly the U.S. was losing. Four minutes later Tonga scored again, and the game was gone.

"That's the game of rugby, that's life in the arena," U.S. captain Blaine Scully said. "All we can really do is squeeze every ounce of learning out of this experience. Hopefully, that can catapult the team for the next four years in the (World Cup) cycle."

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The U.S. needs to get out of the cycle of defeat, if only just for one game. The last time the team won at the Rugby World Cup was against Russia in 2011. If it loses its first game in four years' time in France, it'll be the worst run by the Americans ever at the World Cup.

Still, coach Gary Gold sees losses to England, France and Argentina — and even Tonga — at the Rugby World Cup as worth more in the long run to the nine wins in 10 games the U.S. had in 2018 against the likes of Canada, Chile, Brazil and Romania.

"There have been a tremendous amount of learnings we can take and will continue to take once we reflect on our campaign," Gold said. "There are aspects of our game that we've seen we need to put a lot of time and energy into. None more so than you can't concede the tries we have.

"It's extremely important for us to be able to play those (top) teams. There's deep disappointment at the moment, but this has been an unbelievable opportunity for us to play against these Tier One teams and you know they're putting their best teams on the field. We'll definitely become a better team because of it."

Gold is hopeful of the knock-on effect of the newly formed Major League Rugby, hopeful that the U.S. will nail down specific elements of its game — like defense and the set-piece — and hopeful the U.S. might bid and get to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup.

That would be an immense boost, he said. Look at what it's done for Japan.

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More AP Rugby World Cup: https://www.apnews.com/RugbyWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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