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
Mike 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.
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