(Reuters) - The United States has long been considered a sleeping giant of professional rugby, but is ready to rise and shine at the World Cup in Japan.
After failing to win a match at the 2015 World Cup, the Eagles have taken encouraging strides by winning the Americas Rugby Championship twice and had an impressive run at the Pacific Nations Cup last month, where they eventually fell to Japan.
The current squad has top-flight players from the English Premiership, such as flyhalf AJ MacGinty of Sale, hooker Joseph Taufete'e of Worcester and prop Titi Lamositele of Saracens.
More importantly, the core group of players have enjoyed two seasons of domestic rugby on home soil, thanks to the introduction of Major League Rugby in 2018.
Hooker James Hilterbrand, who made his U.S. debut in 2016, said the team can ruffle a few feathers, despite having their work cut out against England, France and Argentina in their first three pool stage matches.
"To go from what was a high school rugby paddock to the Olympic training centre in Colorado Springs is indicative of the level of professionalism that's come to the game," James Hilterbrand told a news conference on Friday.
"(USA Rugby) is no longer a sleeping giant as everyone wants to call it, it's woken up and it's happening – I think it's just going through breakfast at the moment.
"We're not some subservient rugby nation that doesn't deserve to be on the pitch and can't win.
"People genuinely now have a winning attitude and we know, and we believe that we can win."
A win against Tonga in their final Pool C match would constitute a successful tournament for U.S. coach Gary Gold's side, but Hilterbrand is not looking beyond Thursday's opener against England.
"It's pretty much the same uphill battle we have every game, to try and prove that we can win," he added.
"There's a few little tweaks and little shifts in focuses on some things to hopefully rattle the cage a little bit. A few little changes here and there might hopefully cause a bit of a reaction."
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)