Chester, Pa. - The USA Men's rugby team pushed the Maori All Blacks to the limit, but couldn't quite pull off a famous upset Saturday night, falling 29-19 to the tourists before a packed PPL Park in Philadelphia.
The USA certainly gave the sold-out crowd inside PPL Park a reason to cheer, as the Americans took a 9-7 lead into the break against the New Zealand Maori. But the visitors returned to the second half with a renewed vigor and outscored the hosts 22-10 for the 29-19 victory.
Four minutes in, USA flyhalf Toby L’Estrange sent an up-and-under into New Zealand’s half but it was poorly chased and the Eagles committed a diving-over penalty diving over penalty at midfield. New Zealand kicked for touch, worked the lineout ball to the opposite side and back again. No. 8 Blade Thomson broke a couple of tackles and hit hooker Ash Dixon in support before being stopped. The Maori actually lost possession but soon regrouped with a 5m lineout. The Maori mauled to the line and although they didn’t walk it over, the fringe went uncovered and scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park stepped around wing Tim Maupin for the easy score. Fullback Robbie Robinson hit the conversion for the 7-0 lead.
But the Eagles didn't panic. New Zealand spread the field quickly and get some breaks along the sideline but nothing catastrophic. The USA gets some good penetration from inside center Andrew Suniula and before long, it’s the USA that’s knocking on New Zealand’s door. At the first-quarter mark, fullback Adam Siddall lined up the off-center penalty kick for the three points, 7-3.
Five minutes later it looked like the USA was in trouble again, as a couple of line-piercing runs got New Zealand to the 10 meter. But the USA turned the ruck over and quickly worked the ball wide for Todd Clever to get up to the 40m. A mid-field penalty killed that drive but the Kiwis helped the Americans out shortly afterward. Some miscommunication saw a tight pass bounce off a Maori player’s face and into unguarded territory. Scrumhalf Mike Petri pounced and took off for the line, alone. Petri was soundly wrapped up and held onto the ball just long enough for hooker Phillip Thiel to save possession with key clear. Shawn Pittman and Graham Harriman were quick in support and picked from the tackles, and New Zealand panicked. An offsides penalty in front of the posts allowed Siddall to hit his second kick of the night, 7-6 at 27 minutes.
USA nearly scored in the 32nd minute with L’Estrange put up another up-and-under that wing Luke Hume was ready to field. His pressure forced New Zealand to error on the receipt, and as the Maori tried to work the ball away, No. 8 Cam Dolan stepped into the lane for the intercept. He had 40 meters to go and wing Kurt Baker tracked him down and wrapped him up at the one meter. A USA penalty followed and New Zealand was out of danger.
A couple of exciting breaks got the crowd on their feet – Nick Wallace snuck through an unguarded fringe for a big run; the USA ripped possession out of tackles and rucks. The USA was down on the scoreboard but they were taking advantage of every opportunity they got.
The Eagles were back in New Zealand’s half with time winding down, working the width and getting the ball into the very shifty Siddall’s hands. The teams traded penalties quickly, with the second going to the Americans about 22 meters out and 10 meters off center. Siddall hit goal number three, and the USA took the first lead of the night, 9-7.
The half ended with some spirited play, as Seamus Kelly and Tim Maupin pushed a New Zealand ballcarrier into touch. As the trio grapple on the ground a bit, the USA goes for a quick lineout and putSiddall into space for some dancing. The ball worked out to Suniula, who pinned his defense well and allowed Hume to run and grubber ahead. Hume swarmed the receiver and pushed him into touch for better territory.
But no more points came from that. Still, the USA led the Maori 9-7 at half, a pleasant surprise.
New Zealand started the second half vigorously, and those handcuffing passes and miscommunications in tight that peppered the first half were gone. They looked dangerous and sharp during the first couple of possession, and about three minutes in, captain Tim Bateman slipped through some tackles for the first of his two tries. His second came about 10 minutes later, 19-9 at the 55-minute mark.
USA still continued to create opportunities and pressured the kickoff, resulting in a penalty. A lineout put the USA in better territory and although the punches to the line didn’t yield points, a penalty eventually allowed Siddall to make his fourth kick, 19-12 after 63 minutes. Five minutes later, New Zealand returned the favor with a Robinson penalty, 22-12.
With 10 minutes remaining, the USA got some good ground with exciting offloads in contact. After a minute of going at the line, the USA drew a penalty that Hume quick-tapped and fell just short of the line. The Eagles worked the ball back and Dolan dove over for the Americans’ first try of the game. Siddall hit the extras to pull within three, 22-19.
But New Zealand had the final word and built toward their final try with minutes on the clock. The physicality hadn’t tuned down. Massive hits allowed the Maori to make incremental ground down field and then wide ball saw replacement Luke Katene score. Robinson hit the extras for the 29-19 lead.
New Zealand Maori 29
Tries: Gibson-Park, Bateman 2, Katene
Convs: Robinson 3
Pens: Siddall 4
|Maori All Blacks:
|Tim Bateman (capt)