The USA U20 men didn’t actually need to beat Russia to advance to the final of the Junior World Trophy, a tie, or four tries in a loss would have done. But a victory was what the players wanted, and they felt the pressure a little bit early on, as some attacking movements fell by the wayside, and Russia inched closer to 10-5.
The Americans responded with characteristic aggression, but not precision, as promising moves into the Russian 22 ended with knock-ons. They were just trying a bit too hard.
“All the guys that came in did really well, obviously there will be a few rusty combinations but I think we weathered that in the middle period,” said captain and flyhalf Will Magie said after the win.
They didn’t need to change much – just be sure when the offload was there and when it wasn’t Magie helped lead the way there, and hooker Mike Te’o – an up-and-comer recently profiled in RUGBY Magazine – scored two tries to put the Russians away.
“He’s been itching to get some tries,” Magie said of Te’o. “Mike’s a great runner in open play and he still thinks he’s a back. He keeps harping on [USA backs coach Jason Kelly] whether he can get in on the wing. He had a great game today and obviously his lineout throwing was superb as well.”
The USA now looks ahead to Japan. The thing about Japan is that they have won all their games in close matches - winning margins of three, three, and seven mean Japan has never had the luxury of being comfortable in a game. It also means the Japanese have proven poise under pressure.
“Japan looks good,” said Magie. “Technically they’re really good. We’re going to watch them see their strengths, but we’ll focus on our strengths and what we can do.”
The game on Saturday will mark Japan’s third consecutive appearance in the JWRT final, losing last year to Samoa. The winner will elevate to compete in the IRB Junior World Championship in 2013.