(San Francisco, California) 12 July 1997 --The US National Rugby Team nearly claimed a place on the world rugby stage Saturday, playing the traditionally powerful Welsh even for a full 80 minutes but finally losing 28-23. Welsh flyhalf Arwel Thomas's 68th-minute try, a broken play down the right-hand blindside, proved the difference.
It was a narrow escape for the tourists, who clung to a slim margin for the last 10 minutes of the match, played at Balboa Park's Boxer Stadium in San Francisco.
The Eagles dominated several facets of play throughout the game--notably winning far more possession--but could not contain the Welsh out wide, where winger Wayne Proctor found running room and a hat trick of tries.
"I told the team they've developed a standard they should be proud of," said US head coach Jack Clark after the match. "The results we all crave will follow a performace very similar to the one the team put in today."
"The Americans were well-organized and very aggressive, and put in some big hits," said Welsh coach Kevin Bowring, adding his team would need to improve if it is to defeat Canada next week in Toronto.
Wales scored first with a penalty goal from Thomas in the 13th minute, but his US counterpart, Matt Alexander, answered immediately with a penalty goal of his own. Proctor's devastating speed then put him into the corner twice in the first period, but Thomas could not convert either try.
The scoring came against the run of play as the Eagle forwards repeatedly pounded the ball ahead, allowing the US team to play much of the first period deep in Welsh territory. But the Welsh defense yielded little. Alexander added a penalty goal at the end of the first half, sending the US into the lockeroom down by a converted try, 13-6.
The flyhalfs swapped penalties again to open the second period. With the score at 16-9 and Welsh flanker and captain Gywn Jones injured and off the field, US number eight Jason Walker stretched over to score from a scrum run after winger Brian Hightower had been held up in goal. Alexander's conversion tied the game at 16 all.
The Welsh then returned to first-half's formula for success-feeding the ball to Proctor on the wing. With about 15 minutes left in the match, the Welsh winger calmly beat two defenders for his third try. Undaunted, the US answered with a try of its own directly from the restart. Flyhalf Matt Alexander put winger Vaea Anitoni into the same space Proctor had been enjoying all game and the US pulled level again at 23 apiece.
Thomas's improvisational brilliance broke the deadlock and settled the contest. Regathering his own attempted grubber kick (which rebounded off US defenders), the Welsh flyhalf scampered round the pack to score an unconverted try for the last points of the game.
United States: Tries: Walker, Anitoni
Conversions: Alexander (2)
Penalty goals: Alexander (3)
Wales: Tries: Proctor (3), A. Thomas
Conversions: A. Thomas
Penalty goals: A. Thomas (2)