Written by Alex Goff    Thursday, 15 September 2011 07:11    PDF Print Write e-mail
Points Hard to Come By
National Teams - USA Men

In the end, they just won.

Mike MacDonald tries for a way through. David Brinton photo
Try-scorer Mike Petri sends the ball out. Mike Brinton photo

The Eagles haven’t done that much in their Rugby World Cup history, but this time, they were the better team, and while they might not have won by the margin they should have, they won.

They won because they converted on one key try-scoring opportunity. They won because they had an excellent lineout, and John van der Giessen made several monstrous jumps to steal Russia’s throws.

They won because the forwards battled for another sterling 80 minutes, because Chris Wyles was brilliant in almost every aspect, and because sometimes committing a penalty is the right thing to do.

And of course it could have been much more. Chris Wyles missed three penalty goals and a drop goal attempt. Twice his kicks were swept away by a rough and fickle wind. Everyone on the Eagles thought one of those kicks was going over, but at the last second the wind blew the ball into the post. His drop goal, too, looked good to go before the wind took it.

Andrew Suniula’s rambling run through the Russian line saw him pulled down perhaps a foot before the line. All that relatively bad luck could have resulted in another 13 points for the Eagles, and 26-6 would have been a much more just result.

“I’m delighted with the victory,” said USA Head Coach Eddie O’Sullivan. “It was a tough game, which we expected. I think the conditions didn’t suit either team, but I think it was who made the best of it. I think we dominated the game; our set piece was much better. Our lineout was excellent, but to be fair to Russia we just couldn’t shake them off and I think they defended really well. We had the chance to finish them off but we didn’t.”

O’Sulilvan said he wasn’t frustrated with the lack of scoring, although he would have liked a two-score cushion over the Russians.

“We didn’t get frustrated because if you get frustrated you try to force things that weren’t really on,” he said. “They’ve got fantastic speed out wide and if you make a mistake and turn the ball over they can go 80 meters. We were constantly aware that we had to keep our patience and not get frustrated, and I think we did that really well. It was not going to be a night for fingertip rugby, it was going to be a night for grinding it out.”


Written by Alex Goff    Thursday, 15 September 2011 04:20    PDF Print Write e-mail
USA Edges Russia in World Cup
National Teams - USA Men

The USA have held off Russia to win their third ever World Cup match, emerging victorious 13-6 in front of a huge crowd at Stadium Taranaki in New Plymouth, NZ

David Brinton photoMike Petri scored the only try in a physical, entertaining match that deserved more tries than the fans got.

The Eagles almost gave away a try in the opening minutes, when Petri’s box kick attempt was blocked. The USA defense did the job in shutting them down from there, and that was a big part of the story of the evening’s game.

It was a bad start for the USA for sure but not a mistake they were likely to repeat.

The Eagles got the ball working from the kickoff, running  MacDonald and Moeakiola right up the gut. They spun it quickly to Ngwenya who made some yardage. Russia’s defense held, but it was clear that the Eagles wanted to test Russia wide.

Russia got the ball back in their own 22 and working with the wind kicked to midfield. Ngwenya took the ball but was tackled quickly by wing Vaily Artemyev. He popped the ball back to Paul Emerick but the Russian forwards were swarming in, forcing a penalty. It was a long kick, though, for Kushnarov,and he was short.

The Eagles, though, couldn’t lift the pressure. Even when they got a scrum near midfield, Roland Suniula’s kick to the sideline went out on the full, giving Russia yet another attacking platform.

But the Eagles stole the lineout, after not really trying to do so earlier, and ran from their own half. Paul Emerick made a half-break and so did Chris Wyles. Quick ball from the backs rucking over caught Russia offside, and Wyles got his first attempt at goal from 40 meters out, and he was dead on to tie the score 3-3 at 12 minutes.

From the restart the Americans box kicked (successfully this time) and chased well to bottle up the Russian counter. Kushnarov looked to kick and the wind took his effort out on the full. The Americans won the lineout and set up a nifty backline attack, which saw James Paterson come in from the off wing and break through. Paterson went to the 22 but was caught, and the Eagles were penalized for diving straight onto the ball. The try was on, for sure, but the USA discipline let them down.

Then a piece of magic. From a lineout the Eagles mauled and then sent Petri around the fringe. Quick ball to the backs, where Emerick was used as a decoy and Andrew Suniula fed his brother Roland. The flyhalf broke through, then pass back inside to Andrew. The big center surged ahead and as the defense closed on him pass back inside to Petri who had just enough strength and speed to make it to the line. It was one of the prettier USA tries in recent memory. Wyles easily slotted the conversion and at 19 minutes the Eagles led 10-3.

Both teams started to slam into each other after that. The battle at the breakdown was thunderous, and started to cause turnovers. One came for the Eagles and allowed them to once again kick high and chase. A massive hit by Lou Stanfill and support from the forwards forced an offside penalty by the Russians. Wyles attempted from 40 meters out, but into the wind it didn’t quite have the strength.

Still the Americans looked impressive in attack, offloading out of the tackle a little bit more and making the gainline frequently. Russia’s tackling was good enough, though.

One such tackle forced a knock-on in the Russian 22, but the Bears were penalized at the scrum, giving the USA a prime try-scoring opportunity form the lineout.

A heads up catch on a peel from Lou Stanfill got them started and then they bashed it up several times. But the old Eagles bugaboo of not being able to convert in the red zone reared its head again, and after a long attack Hayden Smith nudged the ball forward.

Russia, though, couldn’t get the engagement right and the Eagles got another shot with a free kick. But ball from the ruck was painfully slow, and Russia got another scrum.

The USA were causing real problems for Russia anytime they pass multiple times and kept the ball alive. The slow pick-and-jam game was not working for them.

Russia cleared their lines, but not far and so once again the Americans had first-phase ball in the Russian 22. Quick ball looked like it would get them somewhere, but Russia slowed them down enough that once again, several phases produced no gain. It did produce a penalty, however, and captain Todd Clever figured they needed to leave the Russian end with some reward. The left-footed Wyles lined up a short-range shot from the left side, and pulled it across the face of the goal.

Ten minutes inside Russia’s 22 meter line had netted the Eagles no further points.

But Russia wasn’t even close to scoring. The USA defense remained as solid as it had been against Ireland, if not more so.

Even when outside backs like Emerick and Paterson had to take care of Russia’s bruisers, they did so. But Paterson paid for it, injuring his arm or chest in the 38th minute. Blaine Scully replaced him. It was a tough blow for the young winger, who seemed to just be getting his sea legs with the Eagles.

In a bruising battle in the rain the physios were busy. Moeakiola was taped up but the tape didn’t hold and he had to leave to attend to a cut on the head.

Russia got a last-minute chance to run with time winding down in the first half, but some outstanding tackles from Chris Biller and Mike MacDonald helped end that. The Eagles deservedly led 10-3, but really should have scored more.

The Americans came out determined to keep the momentum going and, despite the swirling wind and increasing rain, they wanted to run. Running looked impressive, but kicking not so much. Roland Suniula hit another low kick out on the full, when he had backs with him to challenge the Russian defense.

The Bears, meanwhile, started to try some attacks of their own. One missed tackle gave wing Valdimir Ostroushko a break down the sidelines, and while that run was stopped, Kushnarev continued to try to test the USA backs with kicks.

The pressure resulted, ultimately, in a penalty attempt by the Russian flyhalf from 40 meters out. He just missed.

The Eagles were still under the kosh, but a huge hit by Mike MacDonald gave them some relief. The tackle forced a penalty, and got the crowd shouting once again.

As time whittled away, the tension continued to mount. Up just one score with less than 30 minutes to go, the Americans were back in the Russian half, but had to make it count.

Once again a series of phases made some headway, but not enough. Eventually Wyles tried to grubber through. Russia cleared the ball away, only to see Todd Clever spark a huge counter that led to Andrew Suniula breaking two tackles on his way to the line. He was just barely dragged down, and the USA could not get that extra inch.

More pressure forced a penalty, and Wyles hit the post. It seemed points just wouldn’t come. Even a drop goal attempt right in front of the posts by Wyles some slid wide.

The Eagles continued to dominate possession, and every time their fielded a clearance kick, back they ran to put Russia in their end. The hard work yielded an offside penalty 20 meters out and in front of the posts. Wyles made no mistake this time. 13-3 USA with 16 minutes to go.

That penalty was made possible in part by a dropped ball by Russia, and after the restart the Eagles returned the favor – Ngwenya fumbling a rolling ball in his 22. The Americans had stolen two Russian scrums up to that point, and needed another. They didn’t get it, but after one phase sub flanker Victory Gresev dropped a pass as he glanced at the defense.

The Eagles weren’t out of it yet, and while they defended well, they also had to defend for a long time. The odd penalty didn’t help, and then tempers boiled over a little as sub lock Adam Byrnes went after Todd Clever. The USA forwards stepped in to intervene, but it all calmed down quickly enough.

.Russia had a penalty in front of the posts before that scuffle, but Kushnarov, perhaps trying to drive the ball into the breeze, pulled it left.

The Americans looked to get out of it, but an over-eager Scott LaValla jumped on the ball too early. He was penalized for offside, and Kushnarov kicked a perfect ball to the former. Once again the ghosts of no points swooped down.Jonh van der Giessen nabbed the lineout, and then did it again moments later.

Time was now running out for Russia. With five minutes to go they needed to score twice, and the Eagles began a slow, inexorable surge with the forwards. It was a bad choice, though, as the Eagles were pinged for diving on the ball. Clever didn’t like the call, but once again Russia had the opportunity to bring his side within a score. Center Konstantin Rachkov made no mistake, and it was 13-6 with about two minutes to go.

Then the mistake all USA fans were dreading. Gresev took the kickoff, blew through one tackle, and then another, and went 60 meters. He passed off and the USA just barely stopped a try. It looked as though the Eagles had halfted the attack, but Clever was called for shoulder-charging Gresev late, which he clearly did, and Russia elected to take a scrum at the USA 22.The Eagles defended brilliantly, and finally the defensive stand forced a knock on.Referee Dave Pearson called full time, and somehow the Eagles had won.

They deserved to win, but the Eagles continued to struggled to score points even when deep inside a team’s 22. There was a lot of rugby played, and a lot of grit and toughness, and in the end, that was enough.

Mike MacDonald, playing in his 64th international for the USA, was inspirational and deservedly won Man of the Match honors, but John van der Giessen, Mate Moeakiola and Petri were also outstanding.

USA 13
Tries: Petri
Convs: Wyles
Pens: Wyles

Russia 6
Pens: Kushnarov, Rachkov

15 Chris Wyles (Saracens)
14 Takudzwa Ngwenya (Biarritz)
13 Paul Emerick (Life University)
12 Andrew Suniula (Chicago Griffins)
11 James Paterson (Highlanders)
10 Roland Suniula (Boston Rugby)
9 Mike Petri (New York Athletic Club) (Usasz at 67)
1 Mike MacDonald (Leeds Carnegie)
2 Chris Biller (San Francisco Golden Gate)
3 Mate Moeakiola (Bobigny 93)
4 John van der Giessen (Unattached)
5 Hayden Smith (Saracens)
6 Louis Stanfill (Unattached)
7 Todd Clever (Suntory Sungoliath) *Captain
8 Nic Johnson (Unattached) (LaValla at 66)

16 Phil Thiel (Life University)
17 Shawn Pittman (London Welsh)
18 Scott LaValla (Stade Francais)
19 Pat Danahy (Life University)
20 Tim Usasz (Nottingham RFC)
21 Nese Malifa (Glendale)
22 Blaine Scully (Unattached)

15 Igor Klyuchnikov
14 Vladimir Ostroushko
13 Konstantin Rachkov
12 Alexey Makovetskiy
11 Vasily Artemyev
10 Yury Kushnarev
9 Alexander Shakirov
1 Sergey Popov
2 Vladislav Korshunov *Captain
3 Ivan Prishchepenko
4 Alexander Voytov
5 Denis Antonov (Byrnes at 60)
6 Andrey Garbuzov (Gresev at 58)
7 Artem Fatakhov
8 Vyacheslav Grachev

16 Valery Tsnobiladze
17 Alexander Khrokin
18 Vladmimir Botvinnikov
19 Adam Byrnes
20 Victor Gresev
21 Alexander Yanyushkin
22 Andrey Kuzin

Written by Alex Goff    Tuesday, 13 September 2011 23:29    PDF Print Write e-mail
Scrum Fixes Needed
National Teams - USA Men

The scrum was a big topic of discussion at Wednesday’s press conference for the USA national rugby team.

The Eagles had been shoved off the park, not to put too fine a point on it, against Ireland, and while Russia isn’t expected to be as difficult as Ireland, they are expected to cause some troubles for the scrum-challenged USA team.

Forwards coach Dave Hodges saw what everyone else saw, and has worked to do something about it.

“I think there certainly are some fixes that we’ve been putting into place the last two days,” Hodges said. “We’re certainly going to be improved in that area.”

“As a back row we have to keep on our props and be part of that second row,” added captain Todd Clever, who will also be required to pop off that scrum quickly to help No. 8 Nic Johnson should he need it. “We need to get the ball first,” he added. “Before we do other jobs.”

The Eagles didn’t change their second row and back row from the Ireland game, as those five players performed extremely well. But in the front row, Chris Biller comes in for Phil Thiel at hooker and Mate Moeakiola comes in for Shawn Pittman at tighthead prop. Neither of those changes was about form, said Hodges.

“The changes have sort of been on the cards,” said Hodges. “We are very confident in both our hookers. They both can throw very well, and have different strengths and weaknesses, and we don’t feel we lose from one to the other. Mate is an old head in terms of scrummaging. We think this is a great time to come into that front row.”

So the scrum remains important. Clever said the team has to get more of the initiative in the engagements. Hodges says he wants to see intensity. Fans? Well they want to see some go-forward. If they get that, Russia could be in trouble.

Written by Alex Goff    Tuesday, 13 September 2011 23:12    PDF Print Write e-mail
I Vill Break You - Pumping Up the Rivalry
National Teams - USA Men

In Soviet Russia, ball kicks you.

Dolph and Sly or Korshunov and Clever? In Soviet Russia, everyone in from the wrong side.

In Soviet Russia … ok actually that’s all we’ve got.

The local and world press has taken to the idea that USA v. Russia is some kind of Cold War rematch. It’s like there was the 1972 Olympic basketball final, the 1980 Olympic hockey game, and now this is the rubber match. (Apparently nobody saw Rocky IV, where this was all settled.)

It isn’t any of that, of course. Russia hasn’t been the Soviet Union since 1991, so long ago, in fact, that most of the USA team doesn’t even remember Cold War.

The story isn’t a story at all.

“I’m a little bit older than the guys, so I remember,” said USA forwards coach Dave Hodges. “In my formative years in sport, anytime you played Russia it was a big rivalry. While I think some of that has gone because of where we are now politically, there’s still a little bit there. It’s not as intense as it used to be. They’re still a power in the world and the players realize that.”

Hodges said the players think of the Russia rivalry because of Russia being a rising rugby nation, not because of the Cold War.

“For the players, it’s really only something they’ve read about in books.”

Written by Press Release    Tuesday, 13 September 2011 15:26    PDF Print Write e-mail
RWC Match Facts: USA v Russia
National Teams - USA Men

AUCKLAND, 13 Sept. - Key facts and figures for Rugby World Cup 2011 Pool C match between Russia and USA at Stadium Taranaki, New Plymouth, on Thursday, 15 September.


- USA have played Russia on three previous occasions, the Americans winning all three. (The USA lost 31-16 to the Soviet Union in 1988.)

- However, the winning margin has reduced each time, from 30 points in 2004, to 17 last year and then seven in June this year.

- None of the current USA squad played in the 2004 match against Russia when the Eagles won 41-11.

- Hooker Vladislav Korshunov, second row Alexander Voytov and scrum half Alexander Shakirov (all RUS) played in every one of those matches against USA.

- Wing Vasily Artemyev (RUS) has scored a try in each of his two matches against USA.

- None of Russia's players debuted against the United States Test team, but prop Ivan Prishchepenko played his first Test match against USA A in July 2003.


- Ranked at No. 19 on the IRB World Rankings

- Russia are the 25th team to play at a Rugby World Cup.

- The last two debutants, Georgia and Portugal, lost all four of their respective matches in their first Rugby World Cup.

- Debutants Spain lost all three of their RWC 1999 matches, but fellow debutants that year, Uruguay, were in the same group as the Spaniards so came away with one win - a 27-15 victory against the Iberian team. 

- Russia have lost six of their last seven Test matches and have only beaten Spain and Ukraine in eight matches this year.

- Russia played their first match in a non-cap international against the Barbarians in June 1992.

- Their first official Test was played four months later against Belgium, with the Russians winning 17-11.

- Qualified for RWC 2011 by finishing second behind Georgia in the 2008-2010 European Nations Cup.


- Ranked at No.18 on the IRB World Rankings.

- USA coach Eddie O'Sullivan (IRE) is one of three coaches to appear in his third World Cup. The others are Graham Henry (NZL) and John Kirwan (NZL, now coach of Japan). O'Sullivan led Ireland in the 2003 and 2007 World Cups.
(In fact, counting assistant coach appearances, O'Sullivan is now in is 5th World Cup)

- USA are the defending Olympic champions in rugby, winning the gold medal at the 1924 Games in Paris. Rugby returns to the Olympic calendar in 2016 for the first time in 92 years in the Sevens format when the Games take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

- USA have played in 18 RWC matches and have collected two wins and 16 defeats. The only opponents the Eagles have beaten are Japan (twice). Both wins took place in Australia.

- They have recorded three last-place finishes in the pool phase. Only Japan (four) have finished bottom more often.

- In RWC 2007, USA set a competition record by fielding the youngest player. Thretton Palamo was 19 years and eight days when he made his debut against South Africa. That record will be toppled by Taylor Paris (CAN) should he start in any of Canada's four pool matches at RWC 2011.

- Qualified for RWC 2011 by beating Uruguay over two legs after losing to Canada in a two-legged match.

The venue

- USA played at Stadium Taranaki in their opening match of RWC 2011, the 22-10 defeat by Ireland.

- The New Plymouth stadium has been used for one other Test match not involving a New Zealand team. That was a fixture between Samoa and Japan in 2006.

- It is the home of Taranaki, who play in New Zealand's main club competition.

The line-ups

- USA have made just three changes to their starting XV for the match against Russia on Thursday, despite it being their second RWC fixture in five days.

- Hooker Phil Thiel, prop Shawn Pittman and full back Blaine Scully all drop to the bench and are replaced by Chris Biller, Matekitonga Moeakiola and Chris Wyles respectively.

- Prop Mike MacDonald will play his 10th Rugby World Cup match for USA on Thursday, equalling Alec Parker's record.

- The USA second row partnership of John van der Giessen and Hayden Smith will start together for the 12th time in a Test match.

- Only Luke Gross and Parker, who played together at two Rugby World Cups, started together in the USA second row more often than van der Giessen and Smith.

- Russia number 8 Vyacheslav Grachev will become the oldest player to appear at RWC 2011 and the third oldest ever.

- Grachev will be 38 years and 146 days on Thursday, just less than a month older than Argentine hooker Mario Ledesma, who had become the oldest player at this year's tournament in last Saturday's defeat by England.

- Diego Ormaechea (URU) and Mark Cardinal (CAN) are the only players older than Grachev to have played in a RWC match.

- The Russian team shows three changes from the one that lost 32-25 to USA at the Churchill Cup in June, Russia's most recent full Test outing.

- The Russian half back partnership of Alexander Shakirov and Yury Kushnarev start in their 18th Test together, a record for a scrum half and fly half, which they set a few matches ago.

- Vasily Artemyev, Vladimir Ostroushko and Igor Klyuchnikov will start together for the ninth time to equal the Russian record for the back three, should they be selected to start against Italy next week.


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