New Zealand Universities defeated the All Americans 23-20 in the final of the three-game series between the two, an exciting match played in front of a strong crowd at Stanford University’s Steuber Rugby Stadium.
The All Americans dominated possession and field position in the first half, but forced passes and a few small mistakes limited them to just one try and ten points. NZ Universities put in a sterling effort, got a try against the run of play in the first half and in the second half punished a long series of All American penalties to just hold off the hosts.
The game started with the All Americans on the front foot. They retained the kickoff and pressured NZ Universities from the outset. The tourists did manage to finally get the ball back, but their kick to touch was out on the full, and with the ball having been passed into the 22 for Jesse Johnson to boot downfield, the All Americans had a prime attacking lineout.
This they executed well, mauling almost to the line and running a long series of phases using the backs and forwards. NZ Universities tackled valiantly, but it was only a matter of time, and finally Darmouth lock Nate Brakely took a Chris Saint pass, fended off a tackler and went over. JP Eloff’s excellent conversion made it 7-0 just four minutes in.
NZ Universities got into the All American half right from the restart, and earned a penalty. However Johnson’s kick missed badly, and the Americans started to run – Seamus Kelly laying in a massive hit on a would-be tackler. The All Americans kept running and worked their way into the New Zealand half, and earned a penalty from ruck ball. Eloff slotted it well and after 11 minutes the All Americans led 10-0.
The rest of the half was a series of All American attacking moves, with centers Gareth Jones and Kelly right in the middle of the action and loose forwards Ryan Roundy, Derek Asbun and especially Garrett Lambert causing all sorts of problems.
But NZ Universities defended well, forcing a few knock-ons, and the All Americans got frustrated at not seeing it rain tries. Too many forced passes halted their advance, and no tries followed.
Thirty minutes in the All Americans took a blow as Roundy, captain for the day, went off injured. Following his removal NZ Universities struck. Center Sam Hall blew through a couple of tackles and raced to the line. He was hauled down but managed to feed NO. 8 Travis Larson, who scored. Johnson’s conversion made it 10-7 at halftime.
“There was some stuff off the ball and they got under our skin,” said Eloff after the game. “I think we ended up not playing our game, but playing theirs.”
The second half started well for the All Americans. A dropped ball by NZ Universities thanks to a tackle from Asbun led to Lambert booting the ball downfield. He linked with Brakeley who set up quick ball to be sent out to Kyle Grossheider, and the Life wing scored in the corner.
The All Americans led 15-7.
But poor defense in open field once again hurt the All Americans, as Johnson dummied his way through several grasping hands before passing to lock Matt Vellekoop. He was just stopped but the Kiwis were knocking on the door and finally barged in – center Liam Steel dummying his way through two tacklers. Suddenly it was 15-14.
This is where there All Americans started to get into penalty trouble. Their first trouble was apparently diving onto the ball. Lambert was penalized for that despite seemingly being pulled down by a New Zealand player
Sub flyhalf David Neilson easily slotted three points to give NZ Universities the lead.
Moments later the All Americans had the lead back. Tiberio fielded a kick, passed to Duncan Kelm, who drew some defenders and passed back to Tiberio. The wing danced beautifully down the sidelines to score in the corner – his 5th try of the series – for the 20-17 lead.
Eight minutes later it was tied, as referee Joe Androvich saw more diving onto the ball. He informed acting captain Peter Tiberio that there would be no more, and apparently there was one more, as hooker Zach Fenoglio was penalized and given a yellow card.
Neilson hit the kick easily to tie the match.
The match took on a different tone from then on. Early shoves on the scrum that had been called were not anymore, and the All Americans, trying to force the game, kept dropping the ball. At least one of those dropped appeared to be from a New Zealand hand, but the ball hit the deck regardless.
In addition, the NZ Universities team, defending well, seemed to stray offside on several occasions. Those, along with an obvious pulling back on Seamus Kelly as he chased a kick, went unpenalized.
With time winding down Asbun was penalized for a high tackle – exactly the type of tackle the hosts had suffered on several occasions – and Neilson’s kick was successful for a 23-20 lead.
The All Americans really had one more shot, and it was almost good enough. The resulting movement, from deep within their end to well into the NZ University 22 ran as many as 16 phases and involved every member of the squad. It all seemed like the try would be inevitable. However, NZ Universities did well to bottle up Nick Civetta on the sidelines, and his desperation pass infield didn’t find the mark. Androvich blew the whistle, and NZ Universities celebrated.
The All Americans won the series two games to one, but NZ Universities captain Mike Allardice was thrilled with the final match.
“I am so proud of the boys and how hard they worked to get better and learn and improve with each game,” he told RUGBYMag.com. “We didn’t win the series but we really enjoyed this tour and the guys deserve the win.”
“It was a tough way to end it, and I don’t think we played our best game,” said All American center Gareth Jones. “But it was a great assembly, one of the best experiences I have had in rugby, and we learned a lot.”
“We wanted to play our best rugby in the 80th minute in the final match,” added Brakely. “I think we did that. Unfortunately, we didn’t play our best rugby in the minutes leading up to that.”
The All Americans struggled with injuries. Dustin Muhn was a late scratch due to an ankle injury, and scrumhalf Shaun Davies never played. Blaine Scully was held out due to senior national team commitments. As a result, most of the backline had to play a full 80 three times in eight days, especially Chris Saint at scrumhalf.
New Zealand Universities 23
Tries: Larson, Steel
Convs: Johnson 2
Pens: Neilson 3
1. Shay Ashworth, 2. Junior Wanase, 3. Jack Higgins, 4. Matt Vellekoop, 5. Mike Allardcie © 6. Sonny Ali’ifa’logo, 7. Tames Lentjes, 8. Travis Larson, 9. Michael Ruru, 10. Jesse Johnsohn, 11. Tewehi Wright, 12. Sam Hall, 13. Liam Steel, 14. Bampino Mulipola, 15. Hamish Northcott
16. Ben Taumaoe, 17. Jamie Hern, 18. Brad Kolgor, 19. Whetu Douglas, 20. Conrad Goodhew, 21. David Neilson, 22. Luke FIso, 23. Harry Corkill
All Americans 20
Tries: Brakely, Grossheider, Tiberio
15 Duncan Kelm (San Diego State)
14 Peter Tiberio (University of Arizona, co-captain)
13 Seamus Kelly (University of California – Berkeley)
12 Gareth Jones (Temple University)
11 Kyle Grossheider (Life University)
10 JP Eloff (Davenport University)
9 Chris Saint (Penn State)
1 Mike Su’a (BYU)
2 Zach Fenoglio (Loyola Marymount)
3 James Besser (University of California – Berkeley)
4 Chris Parker (Texas A&M)
5 Nate Brakeley (Dartmouth)
6 Garrett Lambert (Life University)
7 Derek Asbun (University of California – Berkeley)
8 Ryan Roundy (BYU, captain)
16 Matt Crawford (St. Mary’s College of California)
17 Ray Forrester (BYU)
18 Nick Mostyn (University of Utah)
19 Mark Bonham (BYU)
20 Nick Civetta (Notre Dame)
21 Dave Martini (University of California – Los Angeles)
22 Jordan Badia-Bellinger (Claremont McKenna)
23 Pat Sullivan (Arkansas State)
24 Benji Goff (University of Tennessee)
25 Andrew Cooke (St. Mary’s College of California)