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Rugby World Cup, including US, kicks off Friday

The Rugby World Cup, which takes place every four years, commences in New Zealand Friday. It is being broadcast by NBC/Universal and can also be streamed on the internet at RugbyWorldCup.com

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The USA team has quietly qualified for every RWC tournament since 1987, and though they’ve had mixed results in past appearances (they’re 2-15 overall in that time), their present team includes eight former alumni of the University of California at Berkeley and promises to be one of the strongest they’ve yet fielded.

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The USA team captain, flanker Todd Clever - who plays professionally for the Suntory Sungoliath of the Japanese Rugby Football Union - is cautiously optimistic about the Americans’ chances within Pool C, which also includes Russia, Ireland, Italy and Australia. “We want to start off strong, but it’s a huge ask against Ireland. Four short days later we’ve got Russia. That’s going to be a tough game, but it’s one that we’re picking out to get a victory from - and Italy as well.” Russia, it should be noted, is playing in its very first World Cup.

Tonga, with a current population of 105,000, is the smallest country represented - this being its sixth RWC appearance overall. It is one of numerous Pacific teams, including the host New Zealand All-Blacks, that begin each match with a ritual. The Sipi Tau, a traditional song sung prior to matches, accompanies the Kailao - a war-dance meant to display the team’s discipline, obedience and skill. Tonga rounds out a complement of three strong Pacific island teams, including Fiji and Samoa.

Related video: The Tongan national team performs the 'Sipi Tau,' prior to a match versus France

Of all the nations competing, Namibia may have the most to prove. It has been to three Rugby World Cups (1999, 2003 and 2007) where it finished 19th of 20 teams in 1999, and a rock-bottom 20th in each of the latter two. The team's main goal, it would seem, is to qualify for the next World Cup cycle. They are currently ranked 20th in the world; but nearly thirty “ratings points” behind perennial powerhouse New Zealand. And speaking of the host team, if one goes purely by the organization of the pools and world rankings, there is an excellent chance of New Zealand and South Africa facing off in the semi-finals, with that winner potentially meeting Australia in the final – with other strong teams like France and England looking to pounce at the first sign of weakness.

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