USA Eagles outlook for Pool B at Rugby World Cup

The start of Rugby World Cup 2015 is Friday, Sept. 18. For the USA Eagles and the rest of the teams in Pool B, the competition will be fierce.

At the RWC, 20 teams are divided in to four groups, called pools. Each group has five teams and the teams play each once in a round robin format. After those matches, the top two teams from each pool, eight teams in all, play in a single elimination tournament - the type that many Americans are accustomed to.

For the Pool B teams trying finish in the top two - including the Eagles, Japan, South Africa, Scotland and Samoa - it will be tough sledding to advance to the knock out stages. The Eagles will need to play some of their best rugby if they hope to advance to Rugby World Cup playoffs.

Here's a preview at the teams in Pool B:

Japan

Current World Rank:13

Japan is working hard to become a top-tier rugby nation and has devoted time, expense and effort to get there.

They have steadily climbed the word rankings from number 18 in 2006 to number 13. Moving ahead of other countries in the rankings is not easy and takes resources, energy, dedication and motivation.

Japan has all of these.

With all this focus on rugby for Japan, they will look to improve from winning only one match in the Rugby World Cup, a 1991 victory over Zimbabwe.

Some would say Japan have their best chance in decades to score another win, perhaps even two or three. With World Cup finalist coach Eddie Jones who steered Australia to a runner-up finish in 2003, the Brave Blossoms will be eager to seize this moment, especially as they are scheduled to host the next Rugby World Cup in 2019.

Japan's team will be heavy on experience with most of their expected starting 15 having more than 30 caps. On the flip side, some have argued that they may actually be too long on experience as lock Hitoshi Ono will be 37 years old when the Brave Blossoms take the pitch Oct. 11 against the Eagles.

Samoa
Current World Rank:12

Samoa combines the traditional flare associated with teams from Pacific Island nations -- keeping opponents off guard while attacking from anywhere on the pitch, and bringing relentless tackling.

The Samoans are also capable of spectacular tries and tremendous upsets. Many remember Samoa having beaten Wales in pool play in the 1991 World Cup, one of the greatest shocks in tournament history. At the time, the country was known as Western Samoa.

In fact, since the last World Cup, Samoa has tallied wins against higher ranked opponents beating Scotland, Italy (twice) and Wales.

In the rugby-mad country of less than 200,000 people, the game is really a way of life for many. If significant numbers of fans are able to make the trip to England, audiences will hear them enjoying themselves as much as any fans at the cup.

An ongoing challenge for Samoa has been that the best players often leave the island to play for other countries. For instance, current Samoa Number 8 Vavae Tuilagi and wing Alesana Tuilagi are brothers with center Manu Tuilagi who left for a more lucrative career in England. Manu has been a starter for England, but will not be playing for them this tournament due to disciplinary reasons.

Samoa and the Eagles meet on the opening weekend of the tournament Sept. 20 at Brighton Community Stadium. The Eagles will be fresh, eager and excited to get their first win of the tournament, but so will Samoa. Fans can expect a great match.

Scotland
Current World Rank:10

Being in the top-10 would normally be a reason for celebration. Not for Scotland and their fans however. The team has always held themselves to high standards, and will be looking to make their mark in this year's World Cup.

This traditional power has had trouble finding its footing recently. This year, they suffered tough losses in the 6 Nations tournament and have had to fight to stay ahead of Tonga, Samoa and Japan in the world rankings.

Scotland have been looking for more talent and that has led them to pick up players from the Southern Hemisphere. Just as Samoa is seeing an exodus, Scotland is importing players.
Scotland's current 31-man squad heading for the World Cup includes a couple South African-born players, a few more New Zealand natives and a Dutchman. One player was even born in the USA.

Despite their recent shortcomings, Scotland does have reason to be optimistic.

Since the 6 Nations, Scotland has beaten Italy soundly, come close to beating France, and challenged a tournament favorite, Ireland. The downside for Scotland is that coming close while losing is becoming part of the storyline for the Thistle.New coach Vern Cotter will want to show the world that Scotland isn't just lovable underachievers.

Scotland meets the Eagles Sept. 27 at Elland Road in Leeds. This will be just four days after Scotland plays Japan.

South Africa
Current World Rank:3

The Springboks are one of the best teams in the world and have been for decades. They have won two previous World Cups (1995, 2007) and are relatively free from injury going into the tournament. They are one of the favorites to win the Webb Ellis Cup.

The Boks style of play always emphasized having a bruising set of forwards who grind down opponents and eventually overpower them. The current squad will also hold this tradition. This year's team will have a strong set of backs as well. Bryan Habana, Willie le Roux, and Zane Kircher will all bring power to the Boks attack, in addition to their speed. The Sring Boks will be led by center and captain Jean de Villiers who is healthy after overcoming two serious injuries already this year.

The Boks had a disappointing third-place finish in The Rugby Championship tournament this summer, however that can be misleading. Losing to New Zealand and Australia - currently the two top-ranked teams in the world - is nothing to look past. They may not win every match, but the Spring Boks will never go away quietly.

When the Eagles meet the Springboks Oct. 7 in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, the USA will have to be prepared for a physical game from their forwards and plenty of tackling from their backs.

USA
Current World Rank:15

Eagles fans should be very excited about their team's chances at the Rugby World Cup. The Eagles have been improving dramatically over the past year. Their scrum is more stable, their backs are attacking even better and their players are more skilled than perhaps any other time in their history.

The Eagles have a more seasoned Olive Kilifi to help veteran prop Eric Fry in the scrums and there is even more depth with Titi Lamositele potentially breaking the starting lineup for this year's matches. The Eagles' backs will feature well for the Eagles as fullback / winger Chris Wyles has taken the reigns as captain.

The Eagles will be very encouraged after a Summer that saw more test matches than they are accusteomed to, and having big wins over rivals Canada three times running.

The World Cup schedule can fall pretty favorably for the Eagles, too. After the first match against Samoa Sept. 20, Head Coach Mike Tolkin's squad will have a full week to prepare for Scotland. The Eagles then then have another 10 days before facing South Africa, a tough match for any team in the field.

The Eagles will then have only four days to prepare for their match against Japan on October 11.