The USA Maccabiah Games rugby team came into Israel a little unhappy.
After all, their big weapon, USA star Zack Test, would not be able to play after committing enthusiastically to the tournament. Test pulled tendons in his hand during the Rugby World Cup 7s, and in fact underwent surgery while with the team in Israel.
No Test was a blow, and certainly showed itself when the USA gave up a 12-0 lead to South Africa to start the tournament with a 12-12 tie. They followed that up with a 10-5 loss to Israel, but it turned out they were far, far closer to the hosts than anyone else were able to be. So a big win over Great Britain was enough to secure 2nd place at 1-1-1 (South Africa finished 0-2-1 and Great Britain 1-2).
That set up the final against Israel, and this time, the Americans did a better job not getting into too much contact with the physical Israeli team. They two squads traded scores before two tries from the USA put them up 17-7, and allowed them to hold on 17-14.
It was a little dicey at the end. The USA had the ball with time winding down, but a high pass forced a knock-on. Some excellent pressure defense from that scrum earned the Americans a penalty, and one free kick later, the opportunity to end the game with a kick to touch.
"When that final whistle went we were engulfed by the rest of our teammates,” said captain and MVP Dallen Stanford. “It's an unbelievable feeling being part of such a special group of people and players. We've been preparing for this for the last two years, even training with the Navy Seals. This past week in Israel we have connected with our heritage and its special being here with fellow Jews.”
The last time the USA won gold at the Maccabiah Games was in 1997, when current program director Shawn Lipman captained the squad. That was in 15s, and they have a couple of days rest before seeing if they can do the double this time.
“Coaches Shawn and Greg have done a fantastic job with this program, and huge credit to them, the rest of the staff and the squad,” anthused Stanford. “Personally, it’s amazing to finish my career with a Gold Medal, playing alongside teammates that will be friends for life. It was our destiny to win tonight - for the boys."