The USA All American leadership warned the players that Wednesday's clash with New Zealand Universities would be tougher and more physical than Saturday's 60-17 victory.
But young players are still young and it was hard for the Americans to really buy that story - hard, that is, until they found themselves 6-3 behind after 40 minutes.
The game at UCSB's Harder Stadium began with the NZ Unis Haka ending with some pushing and chest-thumping before kickoff; it was clear from then that the Kiwis were going to battle if nothing else.
The All Americans camped out in the NZ Universities 22 for much of the opening quarter, but too many players waiting for the pass for the try, and not enough clearing out made for penalties at the wrong time, and try-scoring chances going begging.
Eventually, the AAs took the lead when JP Eloff slotted a penalty. But throughout the first half, the All Americans seemed a little shocked that the tries weren't flowing. The New Zealanders used that element of surprise to get under the Americans' skins, and with flanker Garrett Lambert in the sin bin, they kicked two penalties to lead 6-3 at halftime.
In the second half, a better physical display by the All Americans produced enough for a 21-11 victory, but they had to work for it. A prime try-scoring chance came when a kigh ball at midfield was allowed to bounce. Fullback Peter Tiberio nabbed the rock and looked away. He passed to wing Kyle Grossheider who was of two minds whether to bull through the tackle or set the ball up. In the end the attack was stymied.
But a second attack where the New Zealanders didn't catch a high ball led to a longer series on the tourists' goal line. A penalty seemed inevitable, and Eloff took the points to make it 6-6.
Attacking after the restart, NZ Universities started a weakside move from a scrum. But a poor, loopy pass out to the backs was easy pickings for the opportunistic Tiberio, who intercepted the ball and ran 70 meters for a huge try and a 13-6 lead. The All Americans would not look back.
With fresh legs brought on after that, the All Americans began to exert more dominance in the breakdown. They were led by prop Mikey Su'a, who was a monster once again, and Nate Brakely was also effective at doing the dirty work as was starter Matt Crawford. This helped set up the All Americans' second try, which came from some hard work by the forwards and ended with scrumhalf Chris Saint sneaking around the corner.
NZ Universities would score late in the game after some desultory defense by the Americans, but after that the defensive line was much better. Saint made a try-saving shoestring tackle, and sub hooker Zach Fenoglio made another right on the goal line.
In the end, it was a bit of a wakeup call for the All Americans, but one where they also did enough to win, and look ahead to the series finale in Stanford on Saturday.
All Americans 21
Tries: Tiberio, Saint
Pens: Eloff 3
NZ Universities 11
All American lineup
15 Peter Tiberio (University of Arizona)
14 Kyle Grossheider (Life University)
13 Duncan Kelm (San Diego State)
12 Gareth Jones (Temple University)
11 Dustin Muhn (University of California – Berkeley)
10 JP Eloff (Davenport University)
9 Chris Saint (Penn State)
1 Matt Crawford (St. Mary’s College of California)
2 Andrew Cooke (St. Mary’s College of California)
3 Ray Forrester (BYU)
4 Mark Bonham (BYU)
5 Nick Civetta (Notre Dame)
6 Cam Dolan (Life University)
7 Garrett Lambert (Life University)
8 Derek Asbun (University of California – Berkeley)
16 Nick Mostyn (Utah)
17 Mike Su’a (BYU)
18 Fenoglio, Zach (Loyola Marymount)
19 James Besser (University of California – Berkeley)
20 Chris Parker (Texas A&M)
21 Nate Brakeley (Dartmouth)
22 Dave Martini (University of California – Los Angeles)
23 Jordan Badia-Bellinger (Claremont McKenna)
24 Pat Sullivan (Arkansas State)
25 Benji Goff (University of Tennessee)