The USA has made a brilliant start to its quest to advance to the 2013 Rugby League World Cup by posting a solid 40-4 victory over South Africa in Game 1 of the Atlantic Zone qualifying series Saturday in Philadelphia. The game had everything from stunning plays on offense to big hits on defense. There were also numerous stoppages caused by injuries to players, a consequence of the physicality of the contest.
Wind gusts up to 36mph weren’t a problem for the Tomahawks, who bagged five unanswered first half tries en route to a healthy 24-0 halftime margin. “Regardless of the result, I think we had 20 young men really commit themselves and put on a great physical spectacle,” said USA head coach Matt Elliott. “Both countries are pioneering rugby league and what they’re actually doing for the code of rugby league is something really special.”
The Americans were first on the board when wing Nate Smith made his presence known early by picking off an errant Rhinos’ pass to set up the opening try of the game by fellow winger Sione Taufa. Shortly after, second rower Mark Cantoni scored a try, converted by five-eighth Joseph Paulo, for a 10-0 scoreline. South Africa showed glimpses of enterprising play, but the USA’s solid defensive lines snuffed out any opportunities. The Tomahawks stretched their lead when back-rower Sean Taylor crashed over the line and another successful conversion by Paulo saw the US lead grow to 16-0. Soon after, Taylor was in for his second and then veteran forward Curtis Cunz closed out the first half scoring with a try, both of which were unconverted, for a 24-0 scoreline at the break.
The South Africans suffered several injuries in the first 40 minutes and needed to lift in the second frame to give themselves a chance, however, the US was on a mission and gave up very few chances in the second stanza. The Tomahawks started the second period the way they had finished the first with Cunz notching his second try of the day. Paulo again was good with the extras and the lead blew out to 30-0. By now, the USA was complementing its smash mouth defense by completing its sets on a regular basis and it paid further dividends when a hard-running Danny Howard crossed the tryline for the Tomahawks. Paulo’s fourth conversion made it a 36-0 ball game and the burning question became could South Africa score?
As the match moved into the final quarter, the Tomahawks brought the hammer down on the Rhinos when center Mitchell Stevens rammed home the USA’s eighth and final try of the day for a 40-0 margin. After fullback Christof Swanepoel sustained a concussion in a heavy tackle and was stretchered off the field, they were finally rewarded for their efforts with a late try by wing Johan Fritz although it was all too little all too late. “We’re very satisfied obviously with the result coming off a very short preparation,” added Coach Elliott. Credit the Rhinos though for not throwing in the towel. “It was a great physical game that we expected from the start,” said South African head coach Steven van Zyl.
“To the American side, I think they played magnificent rugby league and we were a little bit disappointing. Game plan didn’t come to light. At stages we did try something new and they closed us down very quick.”
Joseph Paulo was named MVP for the Tomahawks, while Stevie Meyer was South Africa’s MVP.
Matthew Petersen, Nate Smith, Mitchell Stevens, Michael Garvey, Sione Taufa, Joseph Paulo, David Marando, Junior Paulo, Apple Pope (c), Mark Offerdahl, Daniel Howard, Mark Cantoni, Sean Taylor, Subs: Andrew Kneisly, Ian Elliott, Stephen Howard, Curtis Cunz
Christoff Swanepoel, Andre Olwagen, Henry du Toit, Hans du Plessis, Johan Fritz, Francois Greyvensteyn, Andre Loader (c), Christo Louw, Deon Kraemer, Christo Joubert, Rudi Prinsloo, Sivive Mpondo, Stevie Meyer. Subs: Marcelle Slabbert, Gerrie Slabber, Jonothan Soares, JP Nel