Although 12,000 miles away in New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup Shawn Pittman had just as much reason to celebrate London Welsh’s opening weekend Championship victory over Leeds Carnegie.
A bet with Leeds front row forward Mike MacDonald on the outcome on the sides’ meeting at Headingley Carnegie meant the Welsh prop got bag service from one team hotel to the next, all courtesy of his USA teammate.
“I didn’t have to touch my bags at all. It was so funny; he was a bit upset about it,” said Pittman, who arrived back at Old Deer Park this week following the Eagles’ World Cup exploits, and having taken in the sights of Wanganui, New Plymouth, Wellington and Nelson.
“It was great; it was an amazing experience. There were so many more fans supporting us than we get in the US – there was red, white and blue everywhere. It was really magical.”
Ultimately the Eagles would not progress from a tough Pool C, containing Ireland, Australia and Italy, but they did enjoy one victory, against Russia, and more than held their own against Ireland and Italy despite having lost all three of their World Cup warm-up fixtures.
“Our warm up games were pretty bad, our defense was horrible. But we showed up and played as hard as we could and our defense became a key thing for us – people were surprised,” said Pittman.
The USA’s opening World Cup Pool C fixture against Ireland would be especially significant and emotional, given that it fell on the ten-year anniversary of 9/11.
“There were a lot of emotions going on. We had a church service that morning. It was an honor to represent the U.S. on that day,” said Pittman. “The scrums weren’t great, but we played well and gave them a run for their money, but they had the more experienced team.”
The USA lost 22-10 but their next fixture saw them ensure that they wouldn’t head home without a victory to their name, as they beat Russia 13-6.
“It was great because they were selling shirts of Rocky versus the Russian. They were really cool shirts,” said Pittman.
Australia proved too good but it did give Pittman the opportunity to add to his souvenir collection as he added the jersey of Wallabies prop Ben Alexander to that of Ireland prop Mike Ross.
“It was actually looking really good for 30 minutes - the score was 10-5. But it was still great and the scrums went well that day,” he said. “That was probably the only team we hung out with after the game. We did jersey swaps and Australia came in and chatted to us, and we also went over to their locker room. They were really nice guys.”
Defeat to Italy in their final Pool C fixture was arguably the USA’s most disappointing of the tournament, as victory would have had huge implications for the Eagles for qualification for the next Rugby World Cup in England in 2015.
“It was a bit upsetting that we lost that game, but we played really well. They didn’t do anything exciting, but they did play a better game than we did,” said Pittman, who is now tipping Wales to go all the way. “Wales are playing really well right now and I think they might beat Ireland, and it will be probably be a New Zealand v Wales final.”
At 23 Pittman should have another Word Cup or two left in him, and although there are still matters to be resolved in New Zealand, he’s already targeting 2015.
“That’s what I’m aiming for. I definitely wanted to get selected for it again. It would be nice to go to another two,” said Pittman, who has been left with some long lasting memories from his 2011 Rugby World Cup experience. “My overriding memory will be of the guys – the people I played with. Some of them are now retiring and moving on in their careers in the US.”
For now, though, it’s back to Championship and British & Irish Cup business with London Welsh and Pittman can’t wait to get stuck in.
“I’m excited to get back and be able to focus on one thing and not having to travel and worry about my flights etc. It’s going to be nice to be on a straight path,” he said.
Pittman will not play for London Welsh this weekend, but is expected back on the field for his club soon.