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Confident, Battle Hardened Ainu'u Can Lead from the Front

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Confident, Battle Hardened Ainu'u Can Lead from the Front

David Ainu'u takes the ball up against England. Ian Muir photo.

One of the USA players who made his mark in last week's victory over the French Barbarians is a player quite familiar with the opposition—David Ainu'u.

The Olympia, Wash. native who played for the Liberty Patriots in high school before joining the Toulouse Academy, Ainu'u was first capped by the Eagles 10 days before his 19th birthday. This is his fifth season with the USA team, and yet he's still only 22.

But a lot has changed in those years. Ainu'u has logged significant time both with the Toulouse Espoirs (their development team) and the first team. He helped them win a European championship in 2021. What we saw against the Barbarians was an older, more confident David Ainu'u. He was a massive presence in the scrum (check out how the scrum faired when he was in it and when he wasn't), and produced some huge tackles.

"David has been playing very well for us," said Head Coach Gary Gold. 

Simple, but true. Ainu'u scored a try, which was really a function of his work rate and his ability to anticipate, and he set up another with a monstrous tackle that forced a knock-on. The try itself was a simple pick-and-drive, except too many players go high when they do that—not Ainu'u—and when he was hit full-on by two defenders he just pumped his legs and drove them over.

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"I know a lot of the guys on the French Barbarians team so I guess I felt comfortable playing against them," Ainu'u told Goff Rugby Report. "But honestly I just wanted to help the boys. I thought we did really well to stuck to the system—it's very hard when you come together for only a short time and play, so for us to stay in the system was really important."

Ainu'u was a big part of that. He was quick to get back in the play after a ruck or a tackle, and he exuded confidence in a game where it was needed—it really was something like "I know these guys; they're just a bunch of rugby players."

The attitude came across.

In the scrum, Ainu'u is a crucial cog in the machine.

"I knew the scrum would be tough but it's something I make sure I have down," he said. "It's my role and we as a group had a number of really good scrums, and that's important for the entire team when we can do that. It gives us go-forward, and we need that."

Carrying that confidence forward for such a young player will be crucial this weekend. The Eagles play Chile in hostile territory in Santiago, with a World Cup berth on the line. Yes they have the second game back in the USA in Glendale, Colo., but it's that opening 80 minutes on the road that has to set the tone. Another performance from Ainu'u like the one against the French could be just the ticket.