(Apia, Samoa) 26 June 1999 -- Favored Samoa jumped to a 14-3 halftime lead and then withstood a determined rally to down the United States 27-20 in an Epson Cup match today before a capacity crowd in steamy Apia, Samoa.
In the USA's first-ever meeting with the World Cup quarterfinalists, captain Dan Lyle and replacement center Juan Grobler scored second-half tries to pull the Eagles to within 22-17.
But the depleted visitors couldn't contain Samoa's star-studded backline and fell to 3-2 after a long, season-ending road trip from Honolulu to Toronto and then Apia. Brian Lima touched down twice, and George Leaupepe and Afato So'alo each notched a try for 2-1-1 Samoa, littered with Super 12 and English first-division players.
"A year ago we might have thought a 27-20 loss in Apia would have been a satisfactory performance, but we've grown as a team to the point where we're quite disappointed in the result and can point to the exact deficiencies that were our shortcomings," US coach Jack Clark said after the match.
Lyle and lock Luke Gross again headed a dominant lineout, but the US hurt itself with a high turnover rate. Against the Pat Lam-led side, the mistakes were insurmountable.
Injuries also proved costly: While the Samoans could afford to replace former All Black John Schuster with million-dollar-man Inga Tuigamala, from the start the US lacked flyhalf David Niu and fullback Chris Morrow, the former required for summer-school teaching duties and the latter out with a concussion from last week's win over Canada.
Today, scrumhalf Britt Howard and center Mark Scharrenberg were both injured and flyhalf Mark Williams left the game with viral flu symptons that had required intravenous injections during the week. That left makeshift fullback Vaea Anitoni to move to flyhalf while Chip Curtis gained his first cap at wing and Andre Blom shifted to number 15.
The US had also attempted to continue building World Cup depth, playing new cap Joe Clayton at prop last week and Howard and number eight Shaun Paga this week. Tasi Mounga came on to replace Paga as the US comeback required virtually the entire bench. The effort drew a standing ovation as the team left the field.
"I will say this for the boys: Not one of them opted out of the challenge and there's plenty to build on going forward to the World Cup," Clark observed.
Final score: Samoa 27 United States 20 (halftime Samoa 14-3)
Dan Lyle, Juan Grobler
Conversions: Kevin Dalzell (2)
Penalty goals: Mark Williams, Kevin Dalzell
Brian Lima (2), George Leaupepe, Afato So'alo
Conversions: Stephen Bachop (2)
Penalty goals: Stephen Bachop
United States: Vaea Anitoni; Andre Blom, Alatini Saulala, Mark Scharrenberg (Juan Grobler), Brian Hightower; Mark Williams (Chip Curtis), Britt Howard (Kevin Dalzell); George Sucher, Tom Billups, Ray Lehner (Bill LeClerc), Luke Gross, Alec Parker (Dave Hodges), Dan Lyle (captain), Richard Tardits, Shaun Paga (Tasi Mounga).
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