July 22 – Gold Medal Match
USA 11 South Africa 15
1. Frankel 2. Blatt 3. Perle 4. Kaplan 5. Enochian 6. Ellison 7. Levine 8. Dotan 9. Kleiner 10. Vandegrift 11. Berkowitz 12. Stern 13. Bethke 14. Fair 15. Manheimer
subs: Henkin, Lieberman, Teller
The championship match was a photocopy of the preceding test: two evenly matched sides played a tough, hard-hitting game up to the very last minute. Like the preceding match, USA had the lead and the momentum at halftime, and had victory in its sights. But in the end, the slight edge the South Africans had in skill and experience would prove to be the difference between gold and silver.
The USA’s edge in speed, athleticism and mental preparation gave them control of the first half. USA started off quickly, putting together good kicking and fierce rucking to send play into the attacking end. Greg Vandegrift found the uprights on a drop goal from 15 meters to open the scoring. USA continued its strategic kicking game, banging the ball into the corners and hustling well on coverage to keep South Africa from generating offense. The difference in USA’s performance from the previous game was the improvement in pack play. USA took control of the scrums, led by dominance from man-of-the-match loosehead prop Eli Frankel. The speedy backrow led by Guy Dotan and Craig Levine and gave offensive lift by securing possession in the rucks, and locks Josh Kaplan and Sam Enochian provided big gains off lineout peels. Defensively, flanker Aaron Ellison blanketed the field. Most of the half was played in the attacking end, but USA could only convert 1 penalty to take a 6-0 lead into halftime. Still, the methodical and conservative approach on offensive, matched with an unforgiving defensive stance in the forwards and backs, gave USA the momentum. Indeed, USA held the South Africans scoreless, with only one penalty goal attempt and no ball possession inside the 22.
In the second half, South Africa settled down and threatened to score early, but the goal line stand from USA would not break. USA dodged a bullet 5 minutes into the half when South Africa knocked on at the 5 meter line, but a penalty for fighting gave South Africa an easy shot at the posts and 3 points to bring the score to 6-3. This would prove to be the crucial momentum swing South Africa needed, as USA spent the rest of the game stuck in its own end. USA strayed from its first half strategy by trying riskier plays and going for the extra pass into space, a tactic that proved to be unwise in the humid, slick conditions. Indeed, most of the second half was played in set pieces off knock-ons and lineouts, a slower pace that the heavier South Africans preferred. South Africa punched in a try with its back row off loose play (6-10), and scored again by spinning the ball wide and beating the defense to the corner (6-15). USA did have hope in crunch time with some last minute single-handed heroics from fullback Aaron Manheimer, who chased down his own clearing kick, got a lucky bounce, and raced into the try zone to cut the margin to four (11-15). But after the conversion failed, the full-time whistle blew. USA had their scoring chances and could have earned the gold, but South Africa was a bit more skilled, kept possession effectively, didn’t commit penalties and made very few mistakes.
drop goal: Vandegrift