On their homeland’s birthday the United States Eagles overcame their rivals to the north and took a big step towards advancing to the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
In a game where neither side crossed the tryline, the US pack dominated and advanced 12-6 in a boot-first, defensive-orientated contest.
Held at Blackbaud stadium in Charleston, S.C. almost 4,000 fans and a home audience on ESPN witnessed the sun-drenched spectacle.Now at halftime of the two-leg contest, the US take a 6-point advantage to Edmonton, Alberta next Saturday, July 11.
Flyhalf Mike Hercus scored all Eagles points -- three penalties and a drop goal that opened the scoring.
The game was a stalemate for more than half an hour, but on his second drop goal attempt of the game Hercus connected from the right of the post.
“I’m very happy to win the game, obviously, we don’t get to beat Canada very often,” U.S. Head Coach Ed O’Sullivan said. “I thought that maybe we deserved a touchdown or so, but all-in-all I’m very happy to come away with a six-point win.”
“It’s halftime now, we’ve got a six-point lead and I’m happy with it, but I’m not sitting on it,” O’Sullivan said.
A fairly even affair saw the US force mistakes from their northern neighbors. The US pack, driven by a stellar performance by second-row Hayden Smith, dominated set-piece play for the majority of the game, but simply could not turn it into trys.
“We created those kicks by keeping the pressure on Canada, and he put them through,” O’Sullivan said. “To be fair, our forwards played really well today, our scrum’s were excellent. We turned over a lot of ball on Canada when we were in contact, but to be fair we turned over some ourselves.”
The US opened the scoring 35 minutes in with a drop goal. Hercus attempted three in the first 40, connecting with only one.
Canadian points came from two James Pritchard penalties seven minutes apart in the first half.
At the half the game was tied, but the more physical US pack put the pressure on the Canadians later on. The US created 14 redzone opportunities in the game, eight in the second half. In that area of the field the Canadians could only manage two in the second half.
Mistakes led to penalties, Canada committed almost three times as many as the US in the second half, and the US flyhalf’s foot held true.
“This is huge for us, we’ve got a really new bunch of guys together a new coach,” Man of the Match Hercus said. “This is just a fantastic victory for us and just the start of a journey I am really excited to take with these guys.”