(Limerick, Ireland) 14 October 1999 -- A hard-fighting USA went down 53-19 to Australia Saturday night in the Americans' final Rugby World Cup match.
Center Juan Grobler's first-half try punctuated the 80-minute Eagle effort, which drew roars of approval from the capacity crowd of 13,000 at Thomond Park. But the Australian backs were lethal in attack, opening up a 22-10 game at halftime, the professionals' pace and precision simply too much for the amateurs from America.
Captain Kevin Dalzell added three penalties and flyhalf David Niu chipped in a drop goal as the USA showcased its commitment to attacking rugby. But Dalzell missed two makeable penalties, lock Alec Parker was held up in goal, and Australian prop Rod Moore lucky not to concede a penalty try, having tripped Vaea Anitoni when no defenders between the US wing and the tryline.
"We played a lot of rugby tonight," said head coach Jack Clark after the match. "We were unduly criticized earlier in the tournament for being one dimensional, but that one dimension is to run the ball and to play an attacking game. We fought bravely tonight and played pretty close to our potential. That's all you can ask of a team."
Australia's head coach Rod McQueen echoed that sentiment, noting both the USA's improvement from its previous outings against Ireland and Romania, and the Eagles' penchant for playing positive rugby. "The USA's ball retention was quite exceptional," he noted. "We found it very difficult to get the ball and consequently had long periods on defense. That the USA held onto the ball is good rugby."
Flyhalf Steve Larkham opened the Australian scoring, and wing Scott Staniforth crossed again in the first quarter when the Australians got extra men into the line after a good scrum drive from number eight Jim Williams. The US defense then stiffened in the remainder of the period and the Eagles mounted several sorties into Australian territory, finally rewarded with Grobler's try -- the first against the Australians in the World Cup tournament.
In the second half, the US had to settle for Dalzell's penalties. By contrast, the Australian backline attack was often overwhelming, with the Wallabies scoring all but one of their tries in the backs and proving ruthless on the counter-attack.
But the lack of US finishing did not dampen the team's enthusiasm and all-round tenacity. Loose forward Tasi Mo'unga was all over the field, while hooker Tom Billups, along with Vaea Anitoni possibly playing in his last game for the Eagles, made the most of every moment despite playing with a heavily bandaged ankle.
The USA matched Cup co-favorites Australia in the lineout, conceded far fewer penalties (6 versus 17), and just edged the Wallabies in time of possession. In the open field, the US won more rucks and mauls and spread the ball wide more often, according to official match statistics. However, the Eagles didn't convert pressure into its fair share of points.
For head coach Jack Clark, who steps down from his coaching position tonight, the match against Australia provides a certain symmetry to his tenure. In one of his first outings as head coach in 1993, the US pushed Australia 26-22. While tonight's margin was greater, the same effort and commitment was apparent.
Final: Australia 53 United States 19 (halftime Australia 22-10)
Australia: Tries: Staniforth (2) Larkham, Foley, Burke, Strauss, Latham, Whitaker
Conv: Burke (5), Roff
USA: Tries: Grobler
Pens: Dalzell (3)
Drop Goals: Niu
Referee: Andre Watson (Scotland)
United States:. Kurt Shuman; Vaea Anitoni, Juan Grobler (Alatini Saulala), Mark Scharrenberg (Tomasi Takau), Brian Hightower; David Niu, Kevin Dalzell (Jesse Coulson); Joe Clayton (Marc L'Huillier), Tom Billups (Kirk Khasigian), George Sucher, Luke Gross (Eric Reed), Alec Parker, Dave Hodges (Shaun Paga), Fifita Mo'unga, Rob Lumkong.
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