This is a story of two halves. I sat in the press box for the first half, and my official and lovely photographer was on the field.
I attempted to write things up and watch the game. Alas, I can’t do that very well, so I took some bullet notes as I watched. It wasn’t great but the Kiwis were so superior in skill that it was a pleasure to see them with the ball in hand.
Game starts and after a ping pong of kicks, the USA attacked first. Two great scoring opportunities missed due to fast scrambling defence. USA tries to attack with mauls.
NZM scored after a few pouncing attacks by running through the middle using amazing foot skills and a simple lineout play.
USA misses open players and advantages by kicking too much.
NZM also kick for position, but they achieve better results.
USA continues to tackle and hit hard. NZM uses pace and skills to try to advance. Bad USA kicking keeps them in their 22m.
Every time the NZM get one extra step, the USA defence shakes. Play is stuck inside the USA 22.
Second try by Lowe, a beauty!
USA forwards already looking quite tired by 38 minutes of the first half. It may get nasty in the second half.
USA keeps getting tackled behind advantage line.
Yellow card for preventing a try to USA hooker.
Now the NZM show they can maul, and score a try.
End of the half. I cannot do this writing and watching. So I ask my lovely photographer (and wife) to trade places. It is getting cold on the field and she has a cold. Good move on my side as the press box is heated. She then writes the report of the second half.
Ok, folks – second half and a new writer and photographer.
USA Todd Clever has a solid run to start the half, but a phase or two later the US dropped the ball, New Zealand recovers and US gets a penalty for not releasing in a tackle (43 min mark).
Lineout is at about the 15 m and goes straight and uncontested to the NZ. Number 8 Akira Ioane easily runs out the back, around the USA defenders and scores an easy try – or at least he makes it looks easy.
#4 Nate Brakeley from USA makes a break through the defensive line and the crowd is certain the USA Eagles will finally get their first try of the game, but the Ref calls it back because truthfully he caught it on a knock-on from one of his own teammates.
James Lowe runs up the inside from the New Zealand scrum but is stopped.
Meanwhile, yellow card player #2 Hilterbrand from the USA is back in the game. (47:40)
Another scrum for the Eagles and a penalty on the Maoris.
A lineout on the 10m line for the USA. They get the lineout and the maul is pushing, pushing… it twists but is it there? The USA players are convinced it is but the ref goes to TMO to decide. While they wait the Maoris huddle for a team counsel and the USA players slowly walk back down the field. Ref determines it is good and the USA Eagles are on the board thanks to team captain, Todd Cleaver. Another two points in the conversion and the score is now 35-7.
Just as quickly the team in black move it back down field. Damien McKenzie hands it off to #1 Kane Hames and he scores directly under the goal posts. The conversion is good by West. 42-7 at the 52 minute mark.
Just as the Eagles start to believe they have some momentum the Maori rip it from them. But the US team is still fighting. Problem is their offensive line is working backwards – not forwards. The crowd has a low murmur about it – getting excited when it thinks the Eagles are going to finally break through, but dulling to a distraction.
After a New Zealand scrum the passes flow like liquid gold – all until Damien McKenzie gets a little too fancy and with a bad pass throws the ball to a US defender. The play continues in a pile up of a maul, which eventually results in a penalty against the Maoris. Scrum right in front of our photographer who is not taking any photos. Instead, he is watching the game like a tourist.
Okay. There’s finally a photo, I see.
USA is running but #11 taken down at the midpoint and the ref calls a penalty for holding in the tackle. The #10 USA kicks it into touch at the ~30m point. Lineout goes to USA and #11 taken down at the 22 m line. US continues to press but even their winger on the far outside is quickly taken out. The New Zealand defence gradually pushes the US backwards – now to the 30 m, until another break through gets them back to the 22 again. The US continues to work, but it is as if that 22m line is an invisible wall that they just can’t break through. The Maoris constantly adjusting to be there to stop them. Eventually a penalty against USA and KcKenzie kicks it out just past the mid-field.
There’s a lot of movement as the USA decides who to put on the line out line, but it doesn’t matter anyway. New Zealand keeps moving forward after getting the lineout. USA offside at the ~30 m and McKenzie kicks it into touch just in front of our photographer. Will he watch or shoot? Ah, shooting. Very good.
NZ forms a maul and the USA is actually pushing them backwards a bit. They definitely are making progress. But #21 Brad Weber takes the ball off the back at the 63 minute mark to score a try in the corner. Hope the photographer got it! It was right in front of him. [Yes, he did get this picture!]
#22 Marty McKenzie misses the conversion. Won’t matter in the overall results of the game. Score now 47-7.
Penalty on New Zealand and the USA is at the ~30m line. Rather than taking the penalty kick for 3 points they again kick it to the corner and try for the elusive 5 points. Again a maul which collapses so they try to run it but #20 New Zealand knocks the US player down. The Eagles recover and take it into the far corner – they are there – feet away and the crowd is getting really excited now. Chants of USA! USA! USA! cheer them on, but they’re going BACKWARDS! No, boys! The goal is to take it forward across that line!
Ultimately it’s a penalty against the USA. The crowd is really trying in earnest with a resurgence of USA! USA! USA! But alas, a hamstring cramp on the field slows the momentum and the crowd’s cheers simper out.
At last the scrum for New Zealand is ready and Marty’s kick is recovered by the USA and taken back. All good until a clutsy knock on by a USA forward. Another scrum. More chants of USA! USA! USA! Damien kicks the ball down field and Lowe goes for it but USA beats him to it. McKenzie to #14 who breaks through, is tackled, and then holds on. Penalty against the Maoris. And even a yellow card for #21 Brad Weber for deliberately knocking the ball down. So, the AB will finish the game one man down. Will that be enough for the USA to score more? The crowd thinks so as it tries to start a wave in the stadium.
But when Clever himself drops the ball it takes the momentum out of the wave and the play. USA Eagles lose binding in the scrum and the Maori’s go back to mid-field for a lineout.
The Maoris make it past the 22 but it’s not flawless. The backup support isn’t always there. They sometimes lose a fraction of a second in momentum because they have to find their man for the pass.
USA gets the ball and a New Zealand penalty later at the 75 minute mark. Line out near mid-field goes over the USA players but ultimately the ball finds it way to Todd Cleaver. The rucks are messy but somehow the US manages to hold onto the ball.
Clock stop at 77 minutes for an injury and water.
Picking up again for another New Zealand scrum. USA is twisting it but New Zealand gets the ball out and #17 pushes through. #20 then another good push. But the USA gets it back and starts running. USA kicks it out and in a New Zealand lineout. #16 makes a surprise break and runs for the try line. But at the 10 m mark his legs get away from him and he pitches forward! Fortunately, no Eagle is close enough to pin him down so he gets up and crosses the Try line. 79:56 minutes and the conversion from Marty McKenzie is good.
That’s the game, folks. The final score is 54-7.
Handshakes and congratulations across the field as the sell-out crowd of 18,700 begin to filter out of the Toyota Park.