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Eddie O'Sullivan: Eagles fully committed to bridging the global divide

The old beer ad with Sally O'Brien and 'the way she might look at you' came to mind last Sunday. It has become the emigrant's cliche, I suppose. The cold beer, the smile, the egg you could fry on a pavement, "if you had an egg". I sat in a small hotel room in Montevideo watching Ireland rein in Australia on TV, thinking how, even though the world is just an outsized village now, Croke Park seemed galaxies away.

Outside, the sun beat down from a perfect South American sky. It was mid-20s in the shade. And, in the whole of the city, it felt like mine were the only eyes following Brian O'Driscoll snipe in under the Wallabies' posts.

Television connects us today like never before. I'd missed the previous night's soccer game with France only because of the small matter of the US Eagles' Rugby World Cup qualification tie with Uruguay. Maybe not exactly headline news in Europe, but pretty much the centre of our universe for 80 uncompromising minutes.

The game was played in a small soccer stadium and Uruguay played in the style of Argentina's Pumas. In other words, with a pack that took no prisoners and a back division that contained at least three players who could kick a ball the length of O'Connell Street. It was never going to be a picnic. Their results at the Nations Cup last summer told us as much.

Theoretically, we are better than Uruguay, being listed at 18 in the IRB ratings to their 20. But Romania and Russia are above them too and they'd lost those games by six and three points respectively. Ratings are a trap for the complacent.


Anyway, we coped. Actually, with 15 minutes to go, we were doing better than just coping. We led 27-9. One foot in New Zealand with the second leg still to play. And we started showboating a little, counter-attacking at every opportunity. Playing with fire.

And Uruguay just kept rolling inscrutably forward, sticking to their game-plan. Suddenly, our scrum was wilting. Their rolling maul was devouring yards. We conceded a penalty. Then another. Now we were leading by just 12. Worse, our scrum-half was cooling his heels after a yellow card for kicking the ball away.

Then we all but committed hari-kiri.

In the last minute, we ran a counter-attack when we should have been nailing down the shutters. The ball spilled, Uruguay hacked it down field and racked up another seven. By the final whistle, our advantage had been pared to five. Was I not happy?

With the Eagles, though, there are extenuating circumstances. It took a 15-hour trip to get us to Uruguay and we travelled on the back of just four training sessions since July. The journey incorporated a long lay-over in Buenos Aires. Everyone travelling economy.

So a five-point lead to take home? No disaster.

We arrived back in Miami at 7.0 on Monday morning and everything since has been targeted at today's second leg in Fort Lauderdale. I know they're travelling on a bit of a high. There's an onslaught brewing. They out-scored us 13-0 in 15 bad minutes last weekend. They wouldn't be human if that didn't give them hope.

So they'll try to crush our scrum and steamroll us in the maul. They'll look to start the way they finished in Montevideo. We'd better have the jet lag from our systems and be ready. Hopefully players like our experienced fly-half Mike Hercus can show the way forward.

The prize is a place in Ireland's pool at RWC 2011. Our team captain, Todd Clever, reminded the players this week that the USA has made it to every World Cup except South Africa '95. That solitary omission rankles. These players take time off work to represent their country at their own expense. One player even handed in his notice to be in camp. You think about that, about the gamble it represents in the current economic climate, and you can't but respect the commitment it reflects.

So you can forgive them not quite having the professionalism or polish of the Irish players who take on Fiji today. Our media liaison officer informed me on Tuesday that we wouldn't be holding a press conference for our team announcement two days later. The reason? She literally couldn't get any media to attend.

You see, the Miami Dolphins were playing the Carolina Panthers in the NFL on Thursday night. The US Eagles don't count in that kind of company. So the team announcement was cancelled due to lack of interest. Not a predicament ever likely to confront Ireland's media officer, Karl Richardson.

There are eight changes in the Irish team and it might have been only six had Luke Fitzgerald and Cian Healy been fit. From where I stand, it looks a sensible selection by Declan Kidney. The media seems to think so too, which makes me chuckle.

I was regularly labelled an ultra-conservative Irish coach, despite making nine changes against the US Eagles in '04. In 2005, despite having seven players injured, I made six changes against Romania. Then, in '06, I made nine again against the Pacific Islands, including three new caps -- Fitzgerald, Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris.

It strikes me that, sometimes, people see only what they want to see.

Anyway, Ireland -- even in experimental mode -- should beat Fiji. And, fingers crossed, we'll look after Uruguay to set up an Ireland-US Eagles showdown at RWC 2011. It would mean so much to the Americans just to be there.

Who knows, we might even get some media coverage before we travel.

Irish Independent