USA 13 South Africa 16
1. Frankel 2. Blatt 3. Adoff 4. Seitchik 5. Davis 6. Henkin 7. Levine 8. Teller 9. Fair 10. Vandegrift 11. Berkowitz 12. Santiago 13. Bethke 14. Lieberman 15. Manheimer
subs: Kaplan, Kleiner, Dotan, Ellison
blood sub: Perle
Both USA and South Africa were 2-0 going into this match and were guaranteed to participate in the finals, so this game had neither medal nor standings implications. However, the intensity of the game from start to finish would lead any spectator to believe otherwise. While the first two matches were track meets for the USA backs, this match would be a sweaty slugfest in the pack. The low score reflected well-matched teams battling it out for much of the game. South Africa’s pack had a significant size advantage and dominated in the scrums, and they effectively ran their beefy backrow. But USA’s tenacious tackling and defense kept South Africa’s offense in control and the score tight. In the first half, after trading early penalties, USA finally managed to put together a few solid rucks in the attacking end and took the lead when center Steve Bethke found a seam off third phase from 10 meters out. South Africa would come back with a penalty to narrow the gap to 10-6 at halftime. The nip-and-tuck play continued in the second half, but South Africa’s consistent pressure finally earned them a converted try to take the lead 10-13. Flyhalf Greg Vandegrift evened up the score at 13 by slotting an easy penalty, and South Africa answered with one of their own to take the lead 13-16 with 15 long minutes left. The pace of the second half was sluggish as the tiring South Africa side took many injury stoppages. Scrumhalf Mike Fair’s penalty attempt from 40 meters had the height and the distance but moved just wide. Unfortunately, this would be USA’s last scoring chance, as they could not threaten again in the last 10 minutes.
Notable performances came from assistant coach Mark Santiago who came out of semi-retirement to give depth in the centers, and from man-of-the-match fullback Aaron Manheimer who stepped up with powerful counterattacks and hit the gain line at pace throughout the game. Flankers Craig Levine and Josh Henkin provided unsung defensive efforts, and rookies Aaron Davis and Mike Fair played beyond their years. Both sides had rested starters, and the gold medal match would be a whole new game. USA didn’t execute well off set pieces, and failed to secure possession in the tackles, causing the offense to sputter. But while USA didn’t win this game, everyone knew the championship could be won with small adjustments in intensity and execution to correct mistakes.
penalties: Vandegrift (2)
Written by Rob Perle