The USA Eagles managed to grind out a hard-fought 13-6 victory over the Russian Bears who turned in a determined debut World Cup performance at Stadium Taranaki in New Plymouth on Thursday.
After both teams exchanged early penalties the Eagles managed to get some meaningful possession which resulted in a clean line-break near the halfway line. The Americans ran good support lines and the ball was eventually given to scrumhalf Mike Petri who slid over for a well-worked opening try which made it 10-3 to the USA.
The Eagles looked firmly in control from that point and put some serious pressure on the Russian defence, but the World Cup rookies were determined to show that they belong at this level and tackled their hearts out despite not seeing much of the ball.
American goal-kicker Chris Wyles missed two penalty attempts as the Russians grimly held on until half-time.
After the break the teams were greeted by a deluge of rain, but it did not dampen their spirits as they flew at each other in an attempt to secure the ascendency.
After some eyeball-to-eyeball trench warfare the Americans were able to get the first points of the second half when the Russians were penalised for straying offsides in front of the poles with 15 minutes left.
Wyles nailed the kick and the Eagles had a comfortable 10-point lead at 13-3.
However, that did not discourage the Russians and they continued to take the game to the Americans. They were rewarded for their endeavour with a few late penalties, and after a few kicks to the line failed to bring the desired result outside centre Konstantin Rachkov stepped up and slotted the penalty that brought them to within seven points.
The Russians continued to finish the game the stronger of the two teams, with the Americans being penalised for numerous ruck infringements, but they could not come up with the try which would have meant that the Cold War match would finish in a stalemate.
It was a tenacious display from the Bears who will be able to take great heart from their performance despite being disappointed with the final result while the Americans will be very relieved that they managed to come through such a tough battle with a victory.
Pens: Kushnarev, Rachkov
Pens: Wyles 2
Russia: 15 Igor Klyuchnikov, 14 Vladimir Ostroushko, 13 Konstantin Rachkov, 12 Alexey Makovetskiy, 11 Vasily Artemyev, 10 Yury Kushnarev, 9 Alexander Shakirov, 8 Vyacheslav Grachev, 7 Artem Fatakhov, 6 Andrey Garbuzov, 5 Denis Antonov, 4 Alexander Voytov, 3 Ivan Prishchepenko, 2 Vladislav Korshunov (captain), 1 Sergei Popov.
Replacements: 16 Valery Tsnobiladze, 17 Alexander Khrokin, 18 Vladmimir Botvinnikov, 19 Adam Byrnes, 20 Victor Gresev, 21 Alexander Yanyushkin, 22 Andrei Kuzin.
USA Eagles: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 13 Paul Emerick, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 James Paterson, 10 Roland Suniula, 9 Mike Petri, 8 Nic Johnson, 7 Todd Clever (captain), 6 Louis Stanfill, 5 Hayden Smith, 4 John van der Giessen, 3 Matekitonga Moeakiola, 2 Chris Biller, 1 Mike Macdonald.
Replacements: 16 Phil Thiel, 17 Shawn Pittman, 18 Scott LaValla, 19 Pat Danahy, 20 Tim Usasz, 21 Nese Malifa, 22 Blaine Scully.
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
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