(San Francisco, California) 13 June 1998 -- Replacement flyhalf Keiji Hirose's 79th-minute try gave visiting Japan its first lead since the opening moments and a 25-21 victory over the United States today in a Canterbury of New Zealand Pacific Rim Rugby Championship match at San Francisco's Boxer Stadium.
Just three minutes earlier, US halfback Andre Bachelet's short penalty goal had broken an 18-18 deadlock and appeared to salvage a game the Eagles once led 18-6. But second-half tries by Ross Thompson and Patiliai Tuidraki knotted the contest with a little more than 13 minutes remaining.
Following Hirose's heroics, the US nearly pulled off a comeback of its own, capitalizing on a series of penalties and two Japanese yellow cards to run the ball down to Japan's five. But a jarring tackle stopped flanker Fifita Mounga right on the tryline and forced him to fumble the ball forward, ending American hopes.
With seven changes from last week's match, the US started slowly in a first half marred by 24 penalties whistled against both sides. Japan's Stephen Miln opened with two short-range penalty goals, before Bachelet hit one for the hosts.
The US first stretched its legs around the 25-minute mark, when Rob Lumkong quick tapped and headed upfield before passing to flyhalf Vaea Anitoni, who flicked the ball back inside to hooker Tom Billups. Catching the defense by surprise, the US captain galloped 30 yards untouched for the game's first try.
A second Bachelet penalty goal gave the US a 13-6 halftime edge.
The Eagles looked to be hitting stride right after the break, as prop George Sucher's pinball run on second phase put Japan on their heels, for Anitoni to make another break before assisting Saulala for a 43d-minute try. But the US couldn't maintain the momentum and slumped to an unhappy defeat.
"Without taking anything away from Japan, that was a game we had well in hand and let get away from us," observerd US head coach Jack Clark.
"We all have to take responsibility for that, pull up our socks, and get back to work tomorrow," said the dejected captain Billups.
Final: Japan 25 United States 21 (halftime United States 13-6)
United States: Tries: Tom Billups, Alatini Saulala
Conversions: Andre Bachelet
Penalty goals: Andre Bachelet (3)
Japan: Tries: Ross Thompson, Patiliai Tuidraki, Keiji Hirose
Conversions: Stephen Miln, Keiji Hirose
Penalty goals: Stephen Miln (2)
Referee: David Steele (Canada)
United States: Dan Kennedy; Jason Raven, Alatini Saulala (Kurt Shuman), Tomasi Takau, C.D. LaBounty; Vaea Anitoni, Andre Bachelet; Chris Lippert (Bart Furrow), Tom Billups, George Sucher, Luke Gross (Jason Walker), Dave Hodges, Alec Parker, Fifita Mounga, Rob Lumkong.