Friday, April 6, 2012

USA vs Tonga - Rugby World Cup 2007

Four days after facing England and giving the 2003 World Champions a good match, the United States of America was playing its second match of the tournament. The opponent was the Pacific Island nation of Tonga and it was the first match for the men in red. The USA had given England a good match in preventing a strong team from scoring four tries which meant the Tier One side missed out on earning a bonus point. England had no such issues vs its two other Tier Two opponents - Samoa and Tonga.

The clash in Montpellier between the USA and Tonga was to be a tournament defining match for both sides. Leading into the tournament the only team considered capable of giving either England or South Africa a good match was Samoa. What transpired proved that the predictions of many to be off the mark. Tonga were the biggest surprize in giving both Tier One nations hard matches. Tonga came very close to defeating South Africa and in the first half vs England were indeed looking strong. Samoa was thrashed by the Springboks in its first match, conceeding over 50 points and, despite improvement vs England, the men in blue were well beaten. Tonga, before facing England and South Africa, had already defeated Samoa and the USA.

The win over the USA was well documented by USA rugby officials as being a hard pill to swallow. The North Americans, to this day, believe it should have been a USA victory. The major reason why it was not is the start of the match with the USA letting in a try, something that proved fatal. Had the 2011 team been together and had the same experience the liklihood is that the Eagles would have been victorious over Tonga. The match was a strong learning curve and proved very useful for the USA in its preperation for Rugby World Cup 2011. The teams leaking of tries would not repeat itself in 2011 and the USA was a much better team as Ireland failed to score four tries and Italy´s bonus point came from a penalty try. The win over Russia was a defining moment in showing the maturity of the North Americans. It underlined the progress that had been made as a team and, especially in terms of preperation.

Four years earlier, the end of the match between England and the USA was ruined by a dangerous tackle by USA center, Paul Emerick. The tackle on Olly Barclay ended his World Cup as he was suspended. At the time Emerick was the USA´s most decorated player. He was a professional based in Europe and had been for several years. He was surrounded by USA based players, many have since gone to to pick up long term professional contracts for leading teams. The young fullback Chris Wyles, for instance, won the Aviva Premiership with Saracens in 2011 and Todd Clever is a Japanese Champion with Suntory Sungoliath. Other names to emerge include Lou Stanfill and Taku Ngwenya.

Despite the result not bing in the favor of the North Americans, the 2007 clash vs Tonga in Montpellier was nonetheless a great game of rugby. It came at a time when Tier One sides were pushing for a reduction in World Cup participants from 20 teams to 16. France 2007 showed that this argument was a weak one as Tier Two games not only gave Tier One teams good games but also had great games amongst themselves and did so with strong crowds. Curiously the only two matches which were not either sold outor close to it were Tonga´s matches vs the USA and Samoa in Montpellier. 

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