Saturday, May 5, 2012

Samoa vs USA - Rugby World Cup 2007

St. Etienne was the setting for the Pool A match at Rugby World Cup 2007 between the United States of America and Samoa. The North Americans were playing for the third time in the tournament and were going in after playing very well vs England to prevent the reigning World Champions from scoring a bonus point. The same same not true if the USA Eagles´second match as the team was left to contemplate on what might have been as the team lost to Tonga four days later. Samoa, in contrast, had failed to live up to its reputation as being a giant-killer. The South Pacific Island nation had been badly defeated by South Africa first up and then lost to both Tonga and England. The loss to Tonga was a massive upset while Samoa were unable to challenge England despite the team having been humiliated 36-0 by South Africa on the previous weekend.

The teams were therefore viewing this match as a must win and a last-chance saloon. The USA still had to face the Pool leaders, South Africa but that match was not considered one which the Eagles could win. At Rugby World Cup 2003 the USA had lost to Fiji by a single point in Brisbane and were unlucky as flyhalf Mike Hercus missed a conversion on full time to let Fiji off the hook as the Pacific Island nation won 19-18. Four years on and it was a similar scenario despite the USA fielding a very different team. Such was the extent of the changes to the USA Eagels lineup in the years between Australia 2003 and France 2007 that Mike Hercus was one of only four surviors from the one point loss vs Fiji. The USA had lost some of the biggest names in the history of American rugby to retirement including backrowers Dave Hodges and Dan Lyle. The team was also missing its most decorated back of the time, Paul Emerick to suspension. It was therefore talked about as a certain Samoan victory and the USA were not predicted to do so well.

Scripts were not so correct at France 2007 as Argentina made clear in the first match of the tournament and the USA, indeed, came close to completing would would have been a major comeback victory vs Samoa. The favorites had been the better side in the frist half with the USA, as against Tonga, playing below par in the first 40 minutes and then having to mount a secondhalf fight back. Samoa held a 22-3 halftime lead with the USA really not playing well at all but the tide turned after the interval and the USA scored two superb secondhalf tries with the now established USA stars, Taku Ngwenya and Lou Stanfill dotting down. Unfortunately for the North Americans the comeback came too late and Samoa were able to hold on to claim a four point victory.

While Ngwenya´s try vs South Africa four days latter was officially the try of the World Cup, his try vs Samoa also showed his pace and stepping abilities and was his first international try. Remarkably, Ngwenya made the USA World Cup squad and played all four matches despite being uncapped before the tournament. Todd Clever was also an amateur player at the time but had an outstanding World Cup which attracted offers to play abroad and he signed a two year deal to play Super Rugby for the Lions in South Africa. 

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