Blaine Scully hopes the experience of last season’s Challenge Cup triumph can give his side a boost in the race for a top three finish in the Guinness PRO14.
The wing, who crossed for a crucial try in Bilbao back in May, has returned to the Cardiff Blues camp this week, after captaining USA in their recent Americas Rugby Championship campaign.
With four games remaining in the regular season, it looks like the hunt for a play-off spot will go down to the wire, as Wales’ Capital Region welcome rivals Scarlets to the Arms Park for a blockbuster clash on Friday.
“It’s a credit to the performances of the guys over the last few weeks to be able to gain some impressive results and set us up for the business-end of the season,” said the USA international.
“We want to be involved in these big play-off games which are meaningful matches and gives us an opportunity to do something special.
“Professional rugby is a campaign, which can seem long at times, but the end of the season comes around pretty suddenly.
“Having the experience and confidence from our results in Europe last season means the boys can carry that forward mentally and physically right until the very end again this year.”
Defending champions USA finished third in the Americas Rugby Championships this year, following three wins and two defeats over the course of the campaign.
However, Scully insists that one eye remains on preparing for September’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, and is positive with the Eagles’ progress under head coach Gary Gold.
The wing said: “It was valuable time to spend together, because we’re pretty limited in that way, but results-wise it was a pretty up-and-down campaign.
“We learnt a lot about ourselves during the Championship, realised that we have a lot of work to do and it was a great opportunity for us to grow as a group.
“However, we can also be positive as there are a lot of aspects that we continue to do pretty well.
“We’re in a position where we have to focus day-in day-out and make sure we’re at our very best when the Rugby World Cup comes around later in the year.
“Probably the most disappointing thing from our point was that we put ourselves in positions where we were forced to chase games, and that came from putting ourselves under pressure with a combination of unforced errors, decision making or discipline.
“We have cracked through the barrier over the past 18 months, and we have a confidence that we can claim scalps, but what the ARC also showed us was that we can be beaten as well.
“The Rugby World Cup is one of those events where you’ll face each team’s absolute best for the entire 80 minute contest.
“The challenge for us is to focus on ourselves, what we can control and bring the execution of our preparations and work ethic to the matches.
“The ARC have been brilliant for the likes of Brazil and Chile, who have definitely improved, and even for the USA it offers regular game-time which is something we’ve traditionally struggled with.
“Personally, I believe the best way to grow the game is through regional tournaments and I think you’re seeing that in a team like Brazil, who are now spending a lot of time together in daily training environments and are growing as a group.”
The Eagles’ final clash of the Championship came against arch-rivals, Canada, at Seattle Seawolves’ Starfire Sports Complex.
Scrum-half Ruben de Haas crossed for a dramatic late winner over the Canadians, which were led by former Dragons head coach Kingsley Jones.
Scully emphasised the importance of the win, and was delighted to see the home support in the state of Washington.
“It was really important to beat Canada! It’s a very proud rivalry game with each of us caring immensely about that contest.
“Of course, it’s a massive honour to wear that USA jersey and represent your country. It’s a result-orientated business, and the one team you always want to beat is Canada.
“There’s mutual respect, but both sides also share the mindset that this team will be everything for both sides.
“Seattle tends to draw the biggest crowds in the newly-formed Major League Rugby and they sell-out games on a regular basis.
“So to be able to drop-in there and be supported as we were was incredible and hopefully shows the pathway for rugby in the United States is growing through professional competition and each area becoming a hot-bed for rugby in the country.”
(Photo credit: Travis Prior)