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USA Holds On By a Point Over Chile in the Rain and Darkness

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USA Holds On By a Point Over Chile in the Rain and Darkness

Bryce Campbell and Tavite Lopeti congratulate Christian Dyer. Photo World Rugby.

Well, you knew it wasn't going to be easy, and pretty much everything went against the USA Saturday night in Santiago; and yet the Eagles will leave Chile up by a point and in position to win their Rugby World Cup qualifier series when the teams meet against next week in Glendale.

Some of the obstacles were expected: A tough, physical Chilean team with a very good kicking game; a hostile Chilean crowd.

And maybe they should have expected it to be cold, seeing as it's winter in Chile, but it was more than chilly, with the temperatures dropping into the mid 40s. And rain. So much rain. Cold, unforgiving rain. For a team that wanted to play with the ball and run, the unrelenting downpour made it tough.

And then ... THEN ... with the Eagles a few meters from the tryline and charging ahead, the lights went out. No, seriously, the lights went right out. 

OK, so here's how it all went down.

It was raining and it rained throughout the match. So clearly ball handling would be difficult. In addition, the field at Estadio Santa Laura was attrocious, with large patches lacking real grass, and either being moss or, more likely, green-colored dirt. Soon it was green-colored mud, and the mud-colored mud.

The early moments of the game saw both teams make mistakes, but Chile's first big one was a penalty that led to an Eagle lineout. The Eagles mauled it, got a penalty, and took another lineout inside the Condors' 22. Another maul, and then the USA ran three forward crashes to make the defense work. Referee Nic Berry called penalty advantage, so the ball went wide and quick hands put the ball in the mitts of wing Christian Dyer, and the former Cal captain did well to finish his second try in two games this summer. Captain and flyhalf AJ MacGInty then slotted a perfect kick from the sideline and the Eagles had an early 7-0 lead.

The Eagles like their maul and went for it even in their own 22. But their maul in that attempt was almost too good—prop Paul Mullen just kept going and once he was tackled he was isolated. Penalty Chile, but fullback Santiago Videla's attempt was just wide. Instead it was the Eagles who got an attempt at the sticks. Some kick-trading saw fullback Marcel Brache hit late after a kick. Then MacGinty was hauled down by his neck as he moved to the mark to take the penalty. That deserved a yellow card, but referee Berry instead marched off another 10 meters. MacGinty called for the penalty, but missed.

The wet weather contributed to the next points. A long kick to Brache saw the fullback take too long to kick back. His attempt was charged down. Scrumhalf Ruben de Haas tried to fly-hack the ball downfield but the Chileans were move successful. It was a made charge to somehow secure the slippery ball. The Eagles got it, then lost it, then were offside. Videla pointed to the posts and this time put it through. USA 7 Chile 3 at 18 minutes.

MacGinty's restart rolled dead, and it was kind of that kind of day for the USA captain. He looked cold and uncomfortable and not his normal confident self. It manifested in some uncharacteristic kicking mistakes, and this one led to Chile kicking the ball, USA dropping the ball, and eventually another penalty. Videla was good on this one, too and it was 7-6 at 23 minutes. In such a game where the conditions were not conducive to open rugby, dropping balls and being offside were not going to cut it.

As the game wore on the Eagles went to the boot more often. Both teams actually fielded the kicks relatively well, so it was all a case of who had the better chase. More on that later.

Chile couldn't get the handle on one kick and that led to a scrum, which the Eagles dominated enough to get a penalty close to halfway. MacGinty pointed to the posts, but missed.

A Little Piece of Genius (Almost)

Then a little piece of genius that just missed out. A big high ball from MacGinty was not handled well by Chile. The Eagles got it and no one seemed back deep. So de Haas popped a perfectly weighted kick for Dyer to chase. The wing had company, though, with Condors center José Larenas also running back. There the ball lay tantalizingly. Dyer dove, and maybe got it, maybe not. His teammates thought he'd scored, but the replay showed he never really got downward pressure and what would have been a brilliant try was instead a goalline dropout.

Dyer, though, continued to work hard and made a key play sliding on another loose ball to stop Chile from taking advantage. Halftime came with the score 7-6.

MacGinty grubbered the kickoff and it seemed like the Eagles were hoping to use kicks along the ground to get somewhere. A nifty grubber from de Haas saw MacGinty kick the ball ahead and there it sloshed into a puddle in front of the tryline. De Haas picked it up and tried to launch himself over everyone to score. He was summarily launched into touch instead.

But from there the Eagles stole the lineout, with Joe Taufete'e doing very well to make sure they kept the ball. They ran some phases with Greg Peterson almost getting through, and then the ball went wide. Brache had Dyer available and his pass went into touch. It turned out that Videla had knocked it there. Berry looked at the video and yellow-carded the Condor fullback. No penalty try, though, because Chile No. 8 Raimundo Martínez was close enough to Dyer that a try wasn't a sure thing had he caught the ball.

But the Eagles took the lineout, set up the maul, and then wisely kept the maul secure and ordered. Onward tramped the USA forwards with Taufete'e at the back. When he was close enough, over he went and the USA led 12-6.

They're Going to Want That One Back

Back near his 22 de Haas sent a line-drive box kick that hit the ground well inside the Chilean half. Flyhalf Rodrigo Fernández trapped the ball with his foot, looked up, and saw what has to be one of the worst kick-chases in USA memory. There was MacGinty, a flyhalf, and Mullen, a prop, and no one else in any semblance of a line. Fernández sidestepped MacGinty and took off, slicing through the USA defenders. Tavite Lopeti dove after him, when he would have been better off to chase and corral. Hanco Germishuys tried to blast him into next week instead of just being sure to wrap him up—so he missed. 65 meters later Fernández was carrying de Haas over the line for an astounding try. 

A gift from the Eagles, for sure, but a gift he unwrapped brilliantly.

The conversion was no good, but now we had a one-point game again, 12-11 at 52 minutes.

The Night the Lights Went Out ...

Frustration started to show. Mullen pushed a Chilean player for, really, no reason, and that turned a scrum into a penalty. This was certainly a fractious game and there was a lot of off-the-ball stuff. But the USA players (and Mullen is one of the more easy-going guys you'd want to meet) had to keep themselves under control.

All of this led to another penalty (offside again), and back on the field now, Videla was good on the kick for Chile's first lead of the night 14-12.

Chile decided they liked to commit dumb penalties, too, and collapsed a maul, before committing another infraction ... and another ... so the USA got a lineout 11 meters out.

The Eagles bashed at the line, and then changed direction. David Ainu'u was tackled but the USA was in good position when ... all of the lights went out.

Berry, shockingly, did not stop play immediately, but he did after a few seconds. The players stood there, waited, and eventually went back into the locker rooms to stay warm as the lights were finally turned on and warmed up.

It took a while, and you wondered if that would kill any momentum the USA team had.

Taking Control?

But they handled it well. The scrum was strong again, with No. 8 Cam Dolan urging them on, and drove Chile back.  Another penalty, another scrum. Eventually a penalty, which MacGinty put over. Strange, however, that one scrum penalty led to a penalty try against the USA a week ago, and three by Chile this time did not.

Now up 15-14 the USA seemed to relax a little. They were using their forwards and forcing Chile to do silly things. Finally, another penalty led to a lineout, and with Taufete'e subbed off it was down to Kapeli Pifeleti to throw the ball in and help with the maul. The throw was perfect, he got the ball at the back, and saw when it was time to pop off and charge for the line. De Haas was there to help and it was a try.

Once again, MacGinty hit a very difficult conversion, and the USA now led 22-14 with six minutes to go.

All they had to do was hold on and play defense. But a no tackler release penalty put them deep in their 22, and more penalties on the goalline, despite some excellent defense, gave the Condors plenty of chances to taste the kill.

And they did, finally sucking in so many defenders that Videla was over near the posts. He converted, but that was the end of the game. The USA had held on 22-21.

Notes and Analysis

This was a very entertaining game to watch because the mud and the sludge made it kind of an old-school slog. The Eagles realized they could not play in the backs, said flanker Ben Bonasso (interviewed on Chilean TV because he speaks Spanish, so we're paraphrasing from our real-time translation), so they put it through the forwards, and in fact when they used the forwards this way they were effective. It was tough, said Bonasso, but everyone worked hard, they won, and they will go into the next game with confidence.

Great. The USA kicking game was OK at times, but too often they sent high balls into the 22, where the catcher could call for the mark. Their offside penalties were, frankly, idiotic, because the Eagles were defending well and didn't need to be offside. The try they gave up to Fernández was just bad.

But everyone battled through some very difficult conditions. Cam Dolan, who this day played ion his 30th victorious test match, a USA record, was all over the place (in a good way), and Dyer had a big game. Brache was, for the most part, sure dealing with the kicks, and Taufete'e led a strong front row effort that showed itself superbly in the mauls and the scrums. The second row pairing of Nick Civetta and Greg Peterson, and Siaosi Mahoni when he subbed on, was immense.

The USA's best player may well have been de Haas, who made several very smart decisions, didn't let the horrible conditions prevent him from doing his job, and with a little bit of luck he would have had a hand in two more tries.

Jason Damm made his test debut and got stuck in immediately and effectively. No one backed down.

So what this means is that the teams are effectively tied going into Game 2. But the advantage has to be with the USA. They have played far, far better against Chile at home. The warmer and (hopefully) dry weather will fit their abilities better, and it will be a sold-out game for the Eagles. Coming out of Chile with a one-point lead? Surely the USA players will rue the two soft tries they gave up, but they're in front and going home.

USA 22
Tries: Dyer, Taufete'e, Pifeleti
Convs: MacGinty 2
Pens: MacGinty

1. David Ainu’u; 2. Joe Taufete’e; 3. Paul Mullen; 4. Nick Civetta; 5. Greg Peterson; 6. Ben Bonasso; 7. Hanco Germishuys; 8. Cam Dolan; 9. Ruben de Haas; 10. AJ MacGinty (C); 11. Martin Iosefo; 12. Bryce Campbell; 13. Tavite Lopeti; 14. Christian Dyer; 15. Marcel Brache

Reserves: 16. Kapeli Pifeleti (@68); 17. Chance Wenglewski (@68); 18. Angus MacLellan (@68); 19. Siaosi Mahoni (@68); 20. Jason Damm (@61); 21. Tevita Tameilau (@72); 22. Nate Augspurger (@72); 23. Luke Carty (@68);

Chile 21
Tries: Videla, Fernández
Convs: Videla
Pens: Videla 3

 1. Javier Carrasco;  2. Augusto Bohme;  3. Matías Dittus;  4. Santiago Pedrero;  5. Javier Eissmann;  6. Martín Sigren (C)  7. Clemente Saavedra;  8. Raimundo Martínez;  9. Lukas Carvallo;  10. Rodrigo Fernández;  11. Franco Velarde;  12. José Larenas;  13. Matías Garafulic;  14. Nicolás Garafulic;  15. Santiago Videla

Reserves: 16. Diego Escobar;  17. Salvador Lues;  18. Vittorio Lastra;  19. Augusto Sarmiento;  20. Thomas Orchard;  21. Ignacio Silva;  22. Lucas Strabucchi;  23. Marcelo Torrealba;