Hercus kicks Eagles to victory
July 5, 2009
USA 12-6 Canada
The USA Eagles celebrated American Independence Day with a victory over their nearest rivals Canada in the first leg of a World Cup qualifier in Charleston.
The Americans won 12-6 in sweltering conditions at the Blackbaud Stadium thanks to 12 points from the boot of fly-half Mike Hercus in front of a patriotic home crowd who witnessed the Eagles first win against Canada since 2005.
The first half was a hard-hitting affair with no score until 34 minutes on the clock when Hercus successfully scored his second drop goal attempt. Canada fullback James Pritchard levelled the score three minutes later when he kicked a penalty after the Eagles were penalised for an offside offence. Hercus and Pritchard scored another penalty each as the sides went in at the break level at 6-6 after a half of excellent defensive rugby from both teams.
Hercus slotted another penalty through the sticks at the start of the second half as the Eagles took a 9-6 lead but on the hour mark the Canadians had the home side in trouble as they found themselves five metres from the try-line. The Eagles withstood everything that Canada threw at them and after five minutes of intense Canadian pressure Hercus booted the ball to midfield to the relief of the home crowd.
The Eagles should have finished the game off as they charged towards the Canadian line but they were made to pay for a handling error when Takudzwa Ngwenya passed to John van der Giessen before the lock knocked-on. Canada had a chance to equalise late on when the Eagles were penalised for not rolling away but Pritchard missed the resulting penalty from 30 yards and America held onto their slender lead.
With little time left on the clock the Eagles were still looking for the first try of the match and Louis Stanfill made a break for the line. He offloaded to Paul Emerick who was tackled but Canada were penalised and Hercus kicked an easy penalty to seal a hard-fought 12-6 victory.
After the final whistle a modest Hercus was named Man of the Match. He said: "I just happen to be the kicker. The forwards did all the hard work. It was a tough game and they played very well."
The sides meet again next Saturday in Edmonton and USA coach Eddie O'Sullivan said: "The forwards played exceptionally well. They built the platform for Hercus and he executed. " Canadian Coach Kieran Crowley was disappointed with his side after the defeat. "They just out-passioned us and they deserved the win," he said.
"That's what this series is about - and today we just weren't good enough."
The winner of North American qualification will claim a spot alongside New Zealand and France in Pool A at the World Cup whereas the loser will play-off against Uruguay, the winner of the South American Qualification Playoff, for a place in Pool C along with Australia, Ireland and Italy.
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