The USA scored four tries to win a back-and-forth match 32-25 over Russia and claim the Bowl at the Churchill Cup Saturday in Worcester, England.
The story of the USA v Russia game was started a year ago, when the Russians bloodied the American noses early and were only beaten late by some good open-field play by the USA.
The 2011 version of this matchup game seemed to begin the same way, except that the Kingsley Jones-coached Bears were determined to play a more open game.
Russia got an early lift with a penalty from Yuriy Kushnarev, and it looked like it would be more as the Russian restart dropped ominously to the ground in the USA 22 as no Eagle claimed it. Only some quick work by the USA forwards and a nice kick from Nese Malifa got them out of trouble.
The narrative of the game then started to show, as the Eagles, when in doubt, ran the pick-and-jam, while the Russians took more risks, and got some reward, too. Those pick-and-jams earned the USA a penalty attempt for Malifa and the flyhalf duly even the scores.
Russia came close after some miscommunication between Todd Clever and Blaine Scully on a box kick. The Eagles were pinged for a rather pedantic penalty, and Russia tapped quickly and spun wide. Center Paul Emerick did just enough to prevent a try, and the Eagles forced a penalty and escaped.
The Americans had their chances, too. One promising series was started by a turnover and ended by a near-invisible forward pass from Malifa to Inaki Basauri. Another turnover gave prop Mate Moeakiola some space. The prop was almost away to the line but had no nearby support, and Russia was able to turn the ball over.
The Eagles certainly got a scare 20 minutes in. A kick to space and Kushanrev beat Swiryn and fed winger Vladimir Ostroushko, who suddenly was 50 meters downfield with just Nese Malifa to beat. The Eagle flyhalf was good on his tackle, and Todd Clever was there quickly to force a holding-on penalty.
It was a crucial play because the Eagles took a lineout from that penalty just inside the Russia half. Clever took the throw at the back and the Americans put Andrew Suniulas through on a simple crashball that saw the center thunder and weave almost to the line. Some slow pick-and-jams settled the ball and then Petri spun it wide to Malifa, who found Paul Emerick for yet another try for the center.
Russia and the USA had chances after that. Malifa missed a very makeable penalty, while Russia passed on kickable penalties to go for tries. Russia continued to press, and helped by a series of USA offside penalties, finally scored a try; the USA backline defense bunched in some places and isolated in others, giving enough space of Ostroushkov to score on a cutback.
That made it 8-8, and the USA were lucky not to get a yellow card for so many infringements. They were unlucky, however, not to be ahead as yet another turnover in the ruck gave Moeakiola room to take off upfield. The prop had Scott LaValla in support, but the lock was tackled immediately upon getting the ball. The Eagles recycled, but could not keep the ball in the ruck.
Russia came away with the ball and set off downfield once more. Kushnarev found some space and sent Ostroushko and center Mikhail Babaev down the right side once more. Only half-tackles from Malifa and Kevin Swiryn halted the advance.
Deadlocked, then, at halftime, but both teams had to be concerned about the turnovers in open play.
Turnovers hurt the USA early in the second half as a good start with the ball in hand ended when they lost the ball in the ruck. The Eagle defense held, just, as the Russians worked the ball sideline-to-sideline, but eventually Russia got a penalty and kicked to the corner. The Americans stole the lineout, but Malifa was forced to kick clear with his left (unfavored) foot, and needed yet another turnover in the tackle to get them the ball back and see Malifa hoof the ball clear.
The USA got a scare, as Todd Clever flew in on center Alexei Makovetsky and didn’t get up. With one more active player the Russians attacked and got a penalty, which Kushnarev slotted. The time off for the penalty was enough for Clever to get some treatment and get back on his feet.
Clever was right in the middle of the action as the USA ran the phases well from the restart, using Moeakiola and Emerick twice, and seeing Scott LaValla make a break. It all resulted in a penalty in front of the posts, which Malifa hit easily to tie the game 11-11 at 50 minutes.
Russia made it look all too easy from the restart. The Eagles kicked clear, but not to touch, and the Bears ran. Ostroushko broke three tackles to push the Americans back and then lock Alexander Voytov stolled in under the posts. Kushnarev just got the kick over for the 18-11 lead at 53 minutes.
From the restart the Eagles broke open an attack. Malifa dished a lovely inside pass to Clever, who was off into the Russian 22. He forced a pass, which hit the deck and resulted in a knock-on. Had he just kept the ball perhaps the try was on. Lou Stanfill seemed to give his captain words of caution.
At 55 minutes the Eagles got the ball back after they somehow gathered in impressive Russian flanker Victoy Gressev. Little scrumhalf Mike Petri led a counter-ruck that forced a turnover. And from a scrum the Eagles looked very competent, using Blaine Scully in the attack, and getting a big break from Stanfill.
Suniula then made the play, selling a dummy and cutting back against the grain to score untouched under the posts. Malifa was good on the kick and at 58 minutes it was a tie ballgame once more, 18-18.
Turnovers played a role once more right from the restart. The Eagles kicked clear and played defense for a few phases. The Americans seemed a little more aggressive on D, and that push-up produced a bobbled ball, which Todd Clever plucked out of midair and rambled 55 meters for a huge try. Malifa was good on the kick and within the space of five minutes the USA had turned a deficit of 18-11 into a 25-18 lead.
But just as quickly they tried to give it back. Swiryn took the restart kick and tried a needless one-handed pass out of contact. Turnover and Russia did superbly to stretch the USA defense and finally see Vasiliy Artemyev in at the corner. Corner or under the posts, it made no difference for Kushnarev, who hit a beautiful kick to tie the game 25-25 at 65 minutes.
It all seemed to be so tight. Little mistakes could prove costly. The Eagles for a penalty at midfield and went for the lineout. But the throw in the lineout was high, giving the all back. However, it all worked out. Russia kicked deep into midfield, where Scully, who had been solid under the kicks all day, caught the ball on the run and raced off downfield. He scissored with Paul Emerick, who found Andrew Suniula. The center attracted plenty of attention, and offloaded to sub wing Tai Enosa, who was away under the posts. It was a pretty try, and, more importantly, gave the USA a 32-25 lead.
But just as quickly they gave an opportunity back. A knock-on in contact under their posts by the Eagle shave Russia prime attacking opportunity. Only a big tackle by Scully and quick movement by Paul Emerick to steal the ball stopped the attack. Still Russia, with five minutes to go, pressured. They got a penalty and once again opted for the lineout.
The American defense was good enough, though, forcing the Russians to eventually spill the ball from the ruck. The Eagles decided to run out of their own 22, and did well to get the ball into the Russian 22.
But a break for Russia. They kicked and Swiryn took the ball in the air. He was hit before landing, but no penalty; instead a penalty against Swiryn for holding onto the ball.
Perhaps the rugby gods recognized the injustice because the Russian lineout went awry and Clever once again had ball in hand and was screaming upfield.
Russia had one more attack down the line, but the tackles were there and Scully booted the ball into touch to end the game.
In the end, it was not a clean game, but it was a win for the USA. Todd Clever was a huge impact in the second half; Andrew Suniula had his best game as an Eagle. Nese Malifa was picked as the Man of the Match, and perhaps his biggest play was a tackle. Up front, Moeakiola looked good with the ball but it was the workload of the tight five, especially John van der Giessen, that finally did the job. Out wide, Blaine Scully on his debut was excellent under the kicks, put few feet wrong, and showed some outstanding running ability.
Tries: Emerick, A. Suniula, Clever, Enosa
Convs: Malifa 3
Pens: Malifa 2
Tries: Ostroushko, Voytov, Artemyev
Convs: Kushnarev 2
15 Blaine Scully (University of California - Berkeley)
14 Colin Hawley (Olympic Club)
13 Paul Emerick (Life University)
12 Andrew Suniula (Chicago Griffins)
11 Kevin Swiryn (Agen)
10 Nese Malifa (Glendale)
9 Mike Petri (New York Athletic Club)
1 Mate Moeakiola (Bobigny 93)
2 Chris Biller (San Francisco Golden Gate)
3 Shawn Pittman (London Welsh)
4 John van der Giessen (Utah Warriors)
5 Scott LaValla (Stade Francais)
6 Inaki Basauri (L'Aquila)
7 Todd Clever (Suntory Sungoliath, captain)
8 Louis Stanfill (Mogliano)
16 Phil Thiel (Life University)
17 Eric Fry (Las Vegas Blackjacks)on for Moeakiola at 68
18 Pat Danahy (Life University) on for Stanfill at 77
19 Nic Johnson (Unattached) on for Basauri at 62
20 Tim Usasz (Nottingham RFC) on for Petri at 62
21 Roland Suniula (Boston Rugby)
22 Tai Enosa (Belmont Shore) on for Halwey at 57
Russia: I. Klyuchnikov; V. Artemyev, M. Babaev, A. Makovetsky, V. Ostroushko; Y. Kushnarev, A. Shakirov; S. Popov, V. Korshunov(C), I. Prishchepenko, A. Voytov, D. Antonov, A. Temnov, A. Garbuzov, V. Grachev Reps:V. Tsnobiladze, A. Chernyshev, A. Panasenko, V. Gresev, A. Bykanov, A. Ryabov, I. Galinovsky