USA's Mike Petri says tier two rugby needs more games against elite teams

KINGSHOLM, Gloucester -- While plenty of the World Cup's star names will enjoy somewhat of a break following the conclusion of their tournament campaigns, spare a thought for USA scrum-half Mike Petri.

The former Sale and Newport player will return to Xavier High School in New York, his former place of education where he now teaches maths and science, to take on a new class of students having been allowed the time off to participate in England.

"It's been great to have the support from the kids back home. I'm looking forward to meeting them -- I'm going to meet a whole new crew of students when I get back," Petri told ESPN after the USA's 28-18 defeat to Japan on Sunday. "The ones that I've coached and taught have been outstanding with their messages of support and encouragement.

"The messages have been overwhelmingly positive - as far as they're concerned, it's a great achievement [playing in a World Cup] and it's something they dream of doing. I hope they have the same opportunity to do something like this and raise the standards.

"It's really nice to have had that community feeling from back home. The school is like my second home and they're like a family to me. It's great to have that."

Petri grew up in Brooklyn and attended Xavier as a student, where he was persuaded to take up rugby by current USA Eagles head coach Mike Tolkin. He is now back in a teaching capacity and, when he's not busy winning national titles with current team New York Athletic Club, he coaches the Xavier varsity team.

"The attitude towards rugby is very positive," Petri said. "The school is immensely supportive of it. It's a varsity programme, we have four teams with over 125 kids in the programme.

"It's very competitive to make the team -- every year we're competing for a national championship title. It's an honour to be a part of that and it's inspiring to see the kids' goals not only to play college rugby, but also for the Eagles someday as well. I'm really looking forward to going back and working with the guys next season."

And if teaching, playing and coaching wasn't enough, the 31-year-old is also an author. In June this year, a month before he earned his 50th international Test cap for the Eagles, Petri published the children's book "R is for Rugby". South Africa star Bryan Habana was presented with a copy for son Timothy after their 64-0 victory against the USA in London.

"Back home the response has been fantastic," Petri said. "I've only had it out three months and it's sold over a thousand copies so far. The most important thing for me is it's a way to give back to a game that has given me so much throughout my life. The idea of kids being introduced to the game so young is amazing."

While Petri wants to inspire a younger generation of rugby lovers, American interest in the sport is continuing to grow steadily. A record 61,500 crowd witnessed the All Blacks romp to victory against the Eagles at Chicago's Soldier Field in November last year, before Australia were welcomed to the same venue earlier in September as part of the USA's World Cup preparations.

But, with Tolkin's side leaving England without a win or a single World Cup point, Petri insisted the USA needs more exposure to tier one nations if they are to improve ahead of the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

"If you want to compete with the best at tournaments like this, you need to play teams like that more consistently," said Petri, who also represented his country at the 2007 and 2011 Word Cups.

"At home it's been fantastic to host them, we've learned so much from those small moments and opportunities and we've taken a lot away from it. It's the competitive experience that a lot of the domestic players back home don't get every week.

"Overall, it's been a great tournament for us and we enjoyed the experience together. We've just got to pick up the pieces and the guys will have to lead the charge over the next four years."