US Eagles outside half AJ MacGinty believes their inside information on England defence coach John Mitchell will help unlock England’s defence at the Rugby World Cup where the nations clash in one of the toughest pools in the tournament.
Former US Eagles coach Mitchell is now in charge of England’s defence and MacGinty, the Sale Sharks outside half, recognises the system and knows its strengths and weaknesses. However, MacGinty is also keenly aware that Mitchell guided the Eagles to World Cup qualification and will try to negate their knowledge of his working practices with considerable background on the American players.
It provides a fascinating back-drop for the clash in Kobe on September 26 and the Eagles will go into the contest desperate to prove that rugby union really is making an impact in the USA where a professional league plus the feel-good-factor of the US Sevens team’s second-place finish in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series is supplementing the experience being gained on foreign soil by key players such as MacGinty.
The outside half, who has fought back from a serious shoulder injury, helped Sale qualify for next season’s Heineken Champions Cup alongside Springbok No9 Faf de Klerk and his goal kicking will be crucial in a World Cup pool also involving England, France, Argentina and Tonga.
MacGinty, who has amassed 250 points in 21 tests, said: “We know the way that Mitch likes to defend and that should help us in Japan. He is really big about getting off the line as quick as you can and it is a really aggressive defence. It is a high risk, high reward strategy but if teams get over the gain line it can cause you trouble and so you have to operate in the right areas. You cannot cough up ball inside your half because you are under immediate pressure.
“There are a few things we will bring into our game over the summer to cope with that aggressive defence. The squad was pretty consistent under Mitch and over four years he gave a lot of the guys their first caps and so he knows them really well. While our ball carrying and running threats are not household names around the World, Mitch will know how good they are. We have a made a ton of progress over the last four years since the last World Cup and while we have improved, I realise that other countries have also stepped up their game.
“We are in an incredibly tough pool with England, France, Argentina and Tonga and this is a really important time for rugby in the US. We are looking to get wins in this pool and we will have some of the sevens players coming into our squad for the Cup after qualifying for the Olympic Games. The growth of the MLR means that players in the US are in professional outfits and this is huge for the development of the sport. That game with Tonga is a massive one for us and their squad will be as strong as it has been for the last four years.
“We are going to go into camp and will fly to Fiji to compete in the Pacific Nations Cup in the lead up to the World Cup, taking on Canada (July 27), Samoa (Aug 3) and Japan (Aug 10).”
It seems certain that Sale wings Chris Ashton and Denny Solomona – the joint top try scorer in the Gallagher Premiership – will be ignored by England head coach Eddie Jones for the World Cup and MacGinty admits not facing those two threats will be a help although he recognises the strength in depth available to the 2003 Cup winners. “Ashy is a great player and Denny’s ability to get the ball down is amazing and I remember in his first season he had a yard of space and two tacklers hitting him but still got the try,” added MacGinty. “He is incredibly talented at that kind of score.
“We have a lot of strike runners including Byron McGuigan and Marland Yarde who was out for so long injured and we have now been joined by Simon Hammersley from Newcastle. It is going to be a really competitive back three next season. Hammers is very similar to Mike Haley who left us to join Munster with that rangy running style.”
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