The USA U20s staged a comeback but it wasn’t quite enough as the Junior All Americans fell 42-36 to Russia in Saturday’s Junior World Rugby Trophy pool match at Avchala Stadium in Tbilisi, Georgia on May 28.
The Junior All Americans put up a spirited fight, had some good offensive possessions and put up over 30 points, but the Russians simply executed the basics well and showed greater discipline.
Russia got on the board first after a penalty was called against USA for hands in the ruck and scrumhalf German Godlyuk slotted the penalty from 22 meters out to make it 3-0 four minutes into the match.
The USA had a chance to respond as their forwards started gaining ground in the Russia half, but nothing came of it when the ball was dropped forward and Russia was awarded the scrum. Russia got the penalty when the USA forwards engaged early and used the quick tap to take the ball into the US half. Russian fullback Denis Simplikevich was tackled into touch, giving the Junior All Americans a lineout on their own 10-meter line. Russia stole the ball but knocked it on, giving the USA another opportunity to attack from the scrum. However after a few phases, referee Tui Komiti called USA off sides and Russia opted for a shot at goal. Godlyuk again made the kick to put Russia up 6-0.
The Russians had their way in the set pieces all match, especially the scrums. When the USA was awarded a scrum after a Russia knock on, their pack was driven back and the ball squirted out the back. The USA managed to relieve the pressure with a kick, but it was just the beginning of a long match for the USA forwards.
Russia’s next score came when they stole the USA’s lineout and marched the ball into USA territory. The USA got their hands on the ball but knocked on almost immediately and Russia’s pack secured the ball well in the scrum. They worked the ball out to the backs and worked their way past the US 22-meter line. Despite some determined tackling from the Junior All Americans, Simplikevich picked the ball off the ruck, shrugged off a tackler, and touched down in the try zone. Godlyuk made the conversion and it was 13-0 in Russia’s favor.
The USA was awarded a penalty right off the kickoff after Russia was called for diving over, but their first chance at securing some points came to nothing after fullback Joe Cowley’s kick hit off the right post.
However, Russia gave the USA another chance after they knocked the ball on in their own half. Their scrum was pressured but they managed to get the ball out to the backs, where flyhalf and captain Will Magie passed the ball out wide to winger Madison Hughes, who cut past one defender before being brought to ground where he popped the ball up to scrumhalf Michael Oliver. Oliver ran in the last five meters for the score and Cowley made the conversion, bringing the score to 13-7.
Russia did not give the USA any time to celebrate, chasing well off the kickoff and recovering the ball. Godlyuk picked the ball off the ruck and ran deep into the US half before being pressured and passing to Simplikevich, who sprinted in the last 22 meters for his second try. Godlyuk continued his solid performance and slotted the conversion. Russia led by 13 with just over 10 minutes to go in the half.
After a few good runs in the Russia half, a penalty was called against Russia and Cowley landed his kick at goal, reducing Russia’s lead to 10.
Frustration started to show on both sides. A hard tackle by a USA player forced the ball loose and another penalty was called against Russia, a fight broke out and Komiti yellow-carded Russia’s loosehead prop, Alexey Skobiola, who threw punches at USA’s Bubba Jones.
Russia managed to hold on with only 14 men and the half ended after they were penalized in the lineout, the score standing at 20-10.
Early in the second half, another knock on by the USA landed Russia another scrum, which they won and fed the ball wide to Simplikevich who glided through the defense to complete his hat trick. Godlyuk slotted the conversion for a 27-10 score line.
The Junior All Americans gained more ground when Russia was penalized in the following scrum and USA utilized the quick tap, offloaded and worked the ball to Jones who sprinted down the right touchline for the try. Cowley made the conversion and they were back within 10 points.
Russia pressured the USA line when they recovered their own kickoff. The Russian backs ran hard lines to edge closer to the try zone, but the ball was turned over and Jones ran it into Russia territory before passing to Hughes for a length-of-the-field try. With the conversion made, the Junior All Americans were just three points away from tying the game.
Russia then camped out in the USA half, earning a penalty when the USA collapsed a scrum. Russia opted to reset and secured the ball, driving towards the line, but the ball was held up in the try zone.
Further indiscipline by the USA gave Russia another penalty, which they quick tapped. The forwards worked a few phases keeping the ball in hand and eventually flanker Nikolay Pochechuev barged his way over for five points. Godlyuk made his fourth conversion to again widen the gap to 10 points.
In the ensuing kickoff, Russia fielded the ball and mauled downfield before knocking on after a few phases. The USA earned a penalty after Russia engaged early in the scrum and the Junior All Americans took the quick tap. The ball was passed left for Cowley to run in and score behind the posts. After Cowley converted his own try, the score was 34-31.
Russia almost scored again after making a break but an errant pass was caught by a trailing USA defender and kicked into touch at the USA 22. The USA managed to earn a penalty and the scrum, but the Russian pack drove them backwards and Godlyuk picked and ran with it before passing to inside center Alexey Vasiliev for the try. Godlyuk missed his only conversion of the day and the score stood at 39-31.
USA kicked off yet again and Russia maintained possession into the USA half. A good diving tackle at the ruck by the US turned the ball over but it was called back for off sides. Godlyuk finished off Russia’s scoring by slotting the penalty.
After the USA managed to force some pressure on the Russian line, Russia picked up a loose ball and kicked downfield. With time running out, the US took a quick lineout and earned another penalty, kicking to touch to set up a lineout inside the Russian 22. USA won the lineout and edged ever closer to the try zone, but Russia showed that they could match their impressive offense with a stout defense, tackling hard and keeping the USA forwards out of their zone. It was only when the ball was kicked out to Hughes on the left wing that the USA scored. Hughes darted for the line and was tackled but showed great awareness before being pushed into touch to pop the ball up to Magie who scored. Cowley missed the conversion, leaving the score at 42-36.
The final kickoff of the game came as time expired and instead of running the ball from deep, USA kicked it back. Luckily, USA was gifted another chance when Russia knocked it on and USA got the scrum. But as Russia did all match, their pack pushed the USA forwards off their own ball before it was kicked into touch and Komiti sounded the fulltime whistle.
USA now stands at fourth in Pool A with two losses and only two points. Their next match is against Uruguay at 6 a.m. EST on Wednesday, June 1.
But that wasn’t enough. With possession precious the USA kicked it away once and lost it in a scrum the other time, and Godlyuk gleefully kicked the ball to touch to end the match. It was a game of contrasts, where Russia’s forwards bulled their way into the USA half and camped there, while the Americans defended doggedly, but not always in perfect unison.
The USA U20s produced several tries of true beauty, and didn’t give up, but in the end, fullback Simplikevich and scrumhalf Goldyuk provided just enough magic to counter the USA attack.
Tries: Simplikevich 3, Pochechuev, Vasiliev
Convs: Godlyuk 4
Pens: Godlyuk 3
Tries: Oliver, Jones, Hughes, Cowley, Magie
Convs: Cowley 4
1 Alexey Skobiola
2 Stanislav Sel'skiy (C)
3 Yuri Matveev
4 Alexander Galitskiy
5 Ruslan Shirinov
6 Nikolay Pochechuev
7 Vitaly Zhivatov
8 Yuri Vengerov
9 German Godlyuk
10 Leonid Yamschikov
11 Alexander Razumov
12 Alexey Vasiliev
13 Evgeny Kornev
14 Alexander Tolmachev
15 Denis Simplikevich
16 Artem Chechura (43-46 mins)
17 Alexey Kosobochkin (42 mins)
18 Alexander Berzin
19 Sergey Stepanov
20 Maksim Martysh
21 Denis Kukishev
22 Sergey Nikutschenko (63 mins)
1 OJ Auimatagi
2 Drew Ohmann
3 Paul Mullen
4 Pat Coleman
5 Dan Metcalf
6 Tim O'Hara
7 Tyler Black
8 Vake Sanft
9 Michael Oliver
10 Will Magie (C)
11 Madison Hughes
12 Bubba Jones
13 Will Farrell
14 Apelu So'oalo
15 Joe Cowley
16 Patrick Latu (45 mins)
17 Chuck Koehler (33 mins)
18 Sean Carley
19 Mike Juszczak (58 mins)
20 Mike Durant
21 Conor Mills
22 Jake Fallon