USA
United States prop David Ainu'u Image Credit: AFP

Kobe: David Ainu’u is, um, David. Dan Cole is Goliath.

That’s one battle that encapsulates the United States v England game at the Rugby World Cup: 19-year-old American prop Ainu’u, with eight Test caps and even less top-level club games versus the grizzled, vastly experienced Cole, who has played international rugby for nearly a decade and has 90 Test appearances for England.

“David is a real, real shining light for us as a team, and for the USA,” US head coach Gary Gold said on Wednesday on the eve of the Americans’ first game at this World Cup. “He’s a fantastic kid, he’s a wonderful rugby player, an incredibly hard worker and I’m very excited to see him come up against a hugely experienced Dan Cole tomorrow.

“Unquestionably, David has improved.”

He’s hoping the same goes for the entire US team against rugby giants England.

No one expects the US to win in Kobe. The US are 13 in the rankings, England No. 3. The US have never progressed past the pool stage at a Rugby World Cup, England won the title in 2003. Gold guesses England’s team on Thursday at Kobe Misaki Stadium has twice as many Test caps as the Americans — and it’s not even England’s strongest line-up. The US conceded 50 points against Ireland in their last game against a Tier One team. England put 50 points on the Irish in warming up for the World Cup.

The stats go on.

“We do come into this game as quite severe underdogs against a very well-equipped England team,” Gold said. “What it does from our point of view is it allows us an opportunity to hopefully show that we have improved, that we can go toe to toe, even if it’s just for large periods of time in the game, with a team like England.”

Obviously, the history of Tier One vs. Tier Two teams at the World Cup is one-sided. But it’s not perfect.

Gold was in a unique position to appreciate Japan’s stunning upset of South Africa, a two-time World Cup winner, in a game turned into a movie called the “Miracle of Brighton,” at the last World Cup in England four years ago.

Appreciate? Maybe not the right word considering Gold is South African.

But he was working in Japan that year, in this city, for the Kobe Steelers rugby team. Gold said that outrageous upset has “changed the mindset” of the heavily favoured teams against the minnows at Rugby World Cups.

“The reality is we’ve all been there,” he said, “no matter what level you’ve played at, or coached, and you know when you are playing a team that is on paper supposed to be weaker than you.

“The England players, it’ll go through their mind. Maybe not very long, but it’ll go through their mind. What if? What if? What if?”

England opened their World Cup on Sunday by beating Tonga 35-3 in a decent but not overly impressive performance.

“What happened (with) Japan-South Africa holds no relevance to us,” England scrum coach Neal Hatley said. “This is about us, the next step, game two of our World Cup pool. We haven’t looked at anything other than America and preparing for them.”

Catch the Matches

Italy v Canada

Kick-off: 11.45am

Venue: Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium

England v United States

Kick-off: 2.45pm

Venue: Kobe Misaki Stadium

Matches broadcast on BeIN Sports