|USA 39-26 Japan|
Rugby World Cup 2003
The match between Japan and the USA at Rugby World Cup 2003 was considered by many as the only match that either side could win. France was expected to have no problems in winning the pool which meant Scotland v Fiji was expected to determine the runner-up. In the end France was far too strong but neither Fiji nor Scotland was able to perform to the expected level against either Japan or the USA. Scotland´s first match was against Japan in Townsville and the Europeans struggled to the same extent as was the case against Romania in 2011. When Hirotoki Onozawa scored Scotland held a 15-11 lead after 55 minutes.
The USA had performed similarly well in tis first match of the tournament. The North Americans lost against Fiji by one point due to flyhalf Mike Hercus missing a sideline conversion on fulltime. USA Eagles backrower Kort Schubert had gone over to give Herus the change to win the match. The 19-18 loss was followed by a tough match which had the USA backing-up against a fresh Scottish team. The USA had a five day turn-around while Scotland had nine days. The USA´s third match was then played seven days later against a Japanese side backing up after a four day turn-around. Japan´s two most winnable matches were unjustifiably played on October 23 and October 27.
This worked to the advantage of the USA who after facing Japan would take on France on October 31. As such it was all or nothing for the North Americans. The highly regarded Dave Hodges captained the team from the backrow and led from the front. Playing in his 50th test Hodges produced a solid all-round display which included strong ball carrying and ferocious defence. A case in point occured in the 35th minute when Hodges smashed Japanese centre George Konia. The tackle was entirely legal and produced a knock-on. It also saved a likely try as Konia had been the runner from a five metre scrum. Hodges long term contribution to the global game can be seen in the form of subsequent backrowers such as Todd Clever and Samu Manoa who have gone on to have successful professional careers.