The USA Eagles, with UCT ace JJ Gagiano in their midst, have taken a 1-0 lead in their 2011 Rugby World Cup qualifying matches against neighbours, Canada.
The Eagles beat Canada 12-6 at Charleston’s Blackbaud Stadium on Saturday, with Gagiano – UCT’s Varsity Cup captain in 2008 and 2009 – starting the match on the bench, before replacing No.8 Nic Johnson in the 53rd minute.
American flyhalf Mike Hercus scored all the home team’s points – via three penalties and one drop-goal, with fullback James Pritchard kicking two penalties for Canada.
Canadian coach Kieran Crowley said the Americans deserved the win.
“They just out-passioned us,” he said. “That’s what this series is about and (today) we just weren’t good enough.”
US coach Eddie O’Sullivan, meanwhile, said he expects Canada to come out with plenty of spark in the second game.
“I am happy to have those six points in my pocket,” said the former Ireland coach, “but we are going into Canada’s backyard now and it is going to be another dogfight, you can be sure about that.”
Gagiano and his USA teammates now travel to Canadian territory to compete in the second leg of this qualifying series on Saturday, July 11 at Ellerslie Rugby Park in Edmonton.
The winner of the North American qualification series will claim the Americas 1 spot in Pool A of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand and face the host nation, as well as France, Tonga and the top Asian qualifier (TBC).
The loser, however, moves on to face Uruguay, the winner of the South American qualification play-off, in a two-game series to determine the Americas 2 qualifying side, which will take its place in Pool C of the World Cup against the likes of Australia, Ireland, Italy and the Europe 2 qualifier (TBC).
For the United States:
Pens: Hercus 3
Pens: Pritchard 2
The USA team: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 13 Paul Emerick, 12 Roland Suniula, 11 Kevin Swiryn, 10 Mike Hercus, 9 Tim Usasz, 8 Nic Johnson, 7 Todd Clever (captain), 6 Louis Stanfill, 5 Hayden Smith, 4 John van der Giessen, 3 Shawn Pittman, 2 Chris Biller, 1 Mate Moeakiola.
Replacements: 16 Brian McClenahan, 17 Mike MacDonald, 18 Alec Parker, 19 JJ Gagiano, 20 Mike Petri, 21 Ata Malifa, 22 Alipate Tuilevuka.