US rugby team stays humble after ’15 Donald Trumps’ quip

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              England's Luke Cowan-Dickie runs to score a try during the Rugby World Cup Pool C game between England and Tonga at Sapporo Dome in Sapporo, northern Japan, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. (Naoya Osato/Kyodo News via AP)
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KOBE, Japan (AP) — It was meant to be a compliment in Eddie Jones’ famously impertinent style, only it didn’t really work out that way.

The England coach’s quip that the United States will play like “15 Donald Trumps” when the teams meet at the Rugby World Cup in Japan on Thursday has intensified the buildup to what should be a routine win for the English.

Jones, an Australian, said he only meant that the Americans would be fired up for their opening game.

“They’re going to come out all guns blazing,” Jones said, hardly making it any better.

U.S. coach Gary Gold didn’t react, mindful that his squad — at No. 13 in the rankings and below the likes of Georgia — has no right to any bravado against the 2003 champion and No. 3-ranked team in the world.

Instead, the Americans’ record at rugby’s top tournament requires humility.

The Eagles have won one game in three previous Rugby World Cups and three out of 25 in their World Cup history. This year, they must face three Tier One nations in England, France and Argentina in their first three games in Pool C.

The U.S. lost 28-10 to England in 2007 on the way to finishing winless and last in its pool, and the difference this time might be bigger. The U.S. also finished bottom of its pool with an 0-4 record at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.

“At this stage, with all due respect, we’re not a good enough rugby team to be making comments or answers to questions like that,” Gold, a South African, said when asked for his reaction to Jones’ 15 Donald Trumps comparison. “I don’t know what it means.”

It’s been a lively few days at the start of the World Cup from Jones, even by the cheeky Aussie’s standards.

The Trump comment came a day after he was asked by a Japanese reporter to explain his reference to two of his England players being “kamikaze kids.”

Jones, a former Japan coach who has Japanese heritage through his mother, said he used the term to describe young flankers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill because of their ferocious defensive work. Kamikaze is a sensitive word in Japan because of its reference to airplane pilots who flew suicide missions against U.S. and other Allied ships in World War II.

And after England’s first game against Tonga in Sapporo, on Japan’s northern Hokkaido island, Jones said it was special to take rugby to a region unfamiliar with the game. Then, he added Hokkaido was “closer to Russia than you probably want to be.” Russia is also playing at this Rugby World Cup.

Despite Jones’ early exuberance in Japan, his team was patchy against Tonga, only secured a bonus point in the last three minutes and didn’t provide him with a compelling start to the tournament following a compelling final warmup when England beat Ireland 57-15 and Italy 37-0.

Instead, England will aim to ramp up its performance against the Americans in Kobe on Thursday, although the English will only have three full days off after the Tonga game and Jones made 10 changes to his starting lineup to manage that quick turnaround. Flyhalf George Ford takes over the captaincy from Owen Farrell, who is on the bench. Prop Dan Cole comes in to play his 91st test and move level with 2003 World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson in third on England’s all-time caps list.

In contrast, while the English were taking on the hefty Tongans up in Hokkaido, the U.S. has been in camp on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa for two weeks preparing for its entrance at the World Cup.

“We know they’ve been down in Okinawa preparing with Marines so they’ll be hardened for battle,” Jones said.

The U.S. squad going to Okinawa also seemed a strange choice, politically, with protests there last year over the U.S.’s long-term military presence, which dates back to World War II. Still, there’s no indication that the Americans have been anything other than comfortable in Okinawa, with the Japanese hospitality at Asia’s first Rugby World Cup described as excellent by teams.

Against England, the Eagles may get some help from many of their players having experience of England and English players. Four starters — hooker Joe Taufete’e, prop Titi Lamositele, flyhalf AJ MacGinty and center Paul Lasike — play in the English Premiership, as does reserve back Bryce Campbell. The U.S. has eight players in its squad attached to English clubs.

“We’re trying to get better,” said U.S. captain and wing Blaine Scully, who formerly played in England. “We’ve shown we can improve and we are improving. That’s where our focus is.”