(San Francisco, CA) 14 June 1997 -- Final-minute heroics from flyhalf Matt Alexander gave the US National Rugby Team a 17-14 victory over Hong Kong in a Canterbury of New Zealand Pacific Rim Rugby Championship match Saturday at Balboa Park.
An enormous 58-yard penalty kick in the last minute of a seesaw battle put the Eagles ahead for the first time in the match and brought the crowd to its feet. Hong Kong barely had time to restart the match before the referee called full time.
"[Captain] Dan Lyle and I had a quick word," said Alexander, "and I thought I had a good chance to hit it because of the wind at my back. I haven't had many chances at goal this year, and I'm glad that one went through."
US head coach Jack Clark, who would have preferred a kick to touch, praised the players' faith in each other. "I thought there was enough time to put the ball in the corner," he confessed after the match, "and then launch an attack.
Hong Kong head coach George Simpkin called Alexander's long-range effort "superb," but for the Dragons it was a bitter repeat of last week's loss to Canada, which also saw them beaten by a last second penalty.
All the game's scoring came in the second half. Hong Kong hit first in the fourth minute, breaking out from deep in their own territory and passing the ball through several sets of hands before flyhalf Carl Murray scored under the posts.
The US returned immediately to the attack, and after a frenzied drive on the line Lyle crossed in the corner on a trick penalty play. Alexander's difficult sideline conversion leveled the score at 7.
The Dragons answered with several minutes of sustained pressure. Hong Kong center Riaz Fredericks finally cracked the US defense for a converted try, but the Eagles responded by dominating the last 20 minutes of the match. Alexander scored his second try in two weeks and converted himself level the score again with less than 10 minutes to go.
Both teams launched desperate attacks as the clock wound down, before Alexander claimed the win with the extremely long penalty.
"It was a big step in Matt's career," said head coach Jack Clark. "All the great kickers are mentally tough and hopefully this is a good launching pad for his future."
The scoreless first period saw the US launch numerous attack in midfield, the most dangerous midway through the half put first-time fullback Dan Kennedy into space. He was tackled just short of the line, but the Eagles couldn't turn the advantage into points. Scrumhalf Andre Bachelet also burst clear several times, while center Mark Scharrenberg threatened just before halftime. Hong Kong missed two penalty attempts early on, the visitors only scoring opportunities in the first 40 minutes.
"Three test victories in a row are not to be taken lightly--the string feels great," said Clark. The US faces Canada in the year's final Pacific Rim match on June 28 at Balboa Park.