Rugby World Cup 2015: Why Samu Manoa Will Be USA's X-Factor

Danny Coyle@dannyjpcoyleFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2015

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 05: Samu Manoa #8 of the United States Eagles advances the ball against the Australia Wallabies during a match at Soldier Field on September 5, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Eagles land in England for the 2015 Rugby World Cup with an improving team looking to take a scalp or two in their pool matches.

Mike Tolkin’s United States are in a group with South Africa, Scotland, Samoa and Japan and showed glimpses in their latest outing, against Australia, that they can ruffle a few feathers of the more fancied sides.

This ability to unsettle is spearheaded, as you might expect, by the one-man demolition crew that is Samu Manoa.

Northampton Saints fans will know exactly what this man is all about.

They bade him farewell at the end of the recent season. He is off to join the star-studded Toulon, whose decorated playing squad will not fancy tackling practice against the big American.

Comfortable at second row but more effective when bursting out of the No. 8 position, Manoa packages size, strength, speed and aggression in all the right amounts to rank as one of the sport's most impactful players.

When it was announced he would be leaving the Saints for the French giants—whose owner, Mourad Boudjellal, offered him the first ever four-year contract of his tenure, underlining the club's opinion of his talents—Tom Hamilton of ESPN wrote:

Manoa is perhaps the finest No. 8 playing the game in the northern hemisphere. ... You can count the like-for-like replacements for Manoa on the fingers of one hand yet you doubt Kieran Read will be coming north after the World Cup and Bath are getting ever-closer to signing Duane Vermeulen.

That is rarefied company to be associated with, and his performances continue to prove why he is held in such high regard.

In the final round of warm-up matches, he was in the vanguard of what the Guardian’s Martin Pengelly described as a “snot-rattling” defensive effort from the U.S. against Australia. When he was withdrawn, his absence was keenly felt, as Pengelly wrote:

"So that’s what happens when you take Samu Manoa off for a rest—Australia score five tries and escape a real embarrassment. ... [Manoa] was at the heart of a magnificent defensive effort at Soldier Field."

It may take a few more bone-shaking hits from the 30-year-old to haul his countrymen to a win over Scotland and the Samoans.

You have to wonder whether the retention of the jettisoned Todd Clever from the Eagles back row would have given them one of the most fearsome units in the tournament had he been paired with Manoa.

We will never know. But you can bet your last dollar that if the Americans are to spring a shock in this World Cup, Manoa will be the man to make it happen.

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