(El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain) 12 April 1998 -- Six unanswered second-half tries broke open a 6-3 game and propelled the visiting United States to a 49-3 victory over Spain in El Puerto de Santa Maria today in the two teams' first-ever rugby international.
Solid Eagle defense disrupted Spanish possession and limited the hosts' first-half benefit from the local trade wind to a 23d-minute penalty goal. Manufacturing two Matt Alexander penalty kicks just before intermission, the US raced out of the locker room with two tries and another penalty goal in the first 12 minutes, stretching its lead to 23-3.
But the turning point may have come earlier, when a first-quarter Spanish punch that felled prop John McBride not only failed to knock the St. Louis Bombers prop from the game, but roused the Eagles' fighting spirit. Spain tried to intimidate the US again after lock Alec Parker charged into a ruck from an offside position, but wound up with an all-in brawl that started on the US 10-meter line and finished near the Spanish 22. Parker was rightly penalized, but no further action was taken by the Portuguese referee.
In the second half, Alexander opened with a three-pointer at 43 minutes, followed in rapid succession by wing Dan Kennedy's second try of the tour and the first of two more for wing Vaea Anitoni. Both were assisted by center Alatini Saulala.
Overcoming a heavier pack and illness that's shot through the team, the US wore down Spain in the final quarter to score four more tries, three of them converted. Number 8 Rob Lumkong plowed several defenders on a 15-yard scoring run at 62 minutes, while Anitoni's second tally resulted from multiple-phase pressure on Spain's line. Saulala's 73d-minute score followed much the same scenario. Jason Walker's try was the product of individual effort: After a driving lineout, the replacement number 8 was tackled but jumped right to his feet to dive over for the visitors' final try at 79 minutes.
"It was a comprehensive victory under difficult conditions," said pleased US head coach Jack Clark. "We've spent 14 days together, and there wasn't a moment where I could have asked more from any member of the tour party."
Finishing a short tour of Portugal and Spain 3-0, the US now moves on to its Pacific Rim season, which opens in four weeks' time against Japan in Tokyo. Both Spain and the United States will compete in the final round of qualification for the World Cup later this summer.
Meanwhile, Anitoni finished the tour with six tries, bringing his American record total to 23 tries in 25 internationals. The San Mateo star scored four in the USA's 61-5 rout of Portugal on Wednesday to tie the single-game record shared by he and injured Brian Hightower.
USA: Tries: Vaea Anitoni (2), Dan Kennedy, Alatini Saulala, Rob Lumkong, Jason Walker.
Conversions: Matt Alexander (5).
Penalty goals: Matt Alexander (3).
Spain: Tries: none.
Penalty goals: Ferran Velazco.
Referee: A. N. Other (Portugal)