USA hammers Japan
May 18, 2003

The USA has opened the Super Powers Cup tournament with a 69-27 thumping of Japan.

Center Kain Cross scored three tries, two at crucial moments in the first half, while wing Riaan Van Zyl and fullback Link Wilfley each notched a pair. The Eagles ran in 11 tries overall, tying their best-ever total, including eight during a second half burst.

"In the second half we kept hold of the ball better, kept the momentum going, and for me it was a matter of being in the right spot at the right time," Wilfley said after the match.

"The guys responded to the challenge and played much harder in the second half, and once we got going, we started to make better decisions," added US coach Tom Billups.

High-scoring Japanese wing Daisuke Ohata opened the scoring at five minutes, grabbing his 27th try in as many tests. In a sequence typical of the opening quarter, the Cherry Blossoms capitalized on a poor clearing kick to build pressure on the USA's line and then move the ball wide, for Ohata to wrongfoot the defense.

Cross struck back at 9 minutes, taking an assist from flyhalf Mike Hercus, who had recovered his grubber kick through the Japanese backline. Yet it was a lackluster opening half from the Eagles, who struggled to get clear of their 22 for long stretches. While dogged American rucking and scrambling defense kept the hosts in touch, Fuchigami's broken-field try, at 23 minutes, rewarded the visitors' possessional advantage.

The US also hurt itself through numerous penalties, with Fuchigami slotting an easy 20-yarder at 27 minutes to put the visitors in front 17-5. But Cross scooped up a loose ball at the ensuing kickoff to scoot 35 yards past the diving Japanese defense and pull the Eagles to within 5 points. Then, just on halftime, Van Zyl broke a tackle by his opposite marker to tie the score with an unconverted try.

In the game's final quarter, with the contest beyond doubt and the reserves benches emptied, Cayo Nicolau, Van Zyl, Fifita Mo'unga, and Mose Timoteo crossed the line for the USA, while Yohei Shinomiya and George Konia scored for Japan. As in recent wins over Spain, the Eagles seemed to find an extra gear late in the contest.

The opening match of the International Rugby Board's Super Powers Cup, contested among Japan, Russia, and the United States, was the highest-scoring match between the two teams, whose rivalry dates to 1985. The USA now leads the series 11-3-1.

Japan and the USA will meet again in Pool B of rugby's World Cup in October. Japan plays Russia in a Super Powers match a week from now, while the USA resumes action at the Churchill Cup in June, and will send a Development XV to Russia in July.

Final: United States 69 Japan 27 (halftime tied 17-17)

USA: Tries: Cross (3), Wilfley (2), Van Zyl (2), Fee, Nicolau, Mo'unga, Timoteo
Cons: Hercus (7)
Pens: none

Japan: Tries: Ohata, Fuchigami, Shinomiya, Konia
Cons: Fuchigami (2)
Pens: Fuchigami

Referee: Bruce Kuklinski (Canada)
Crowd: 1,852

United States: Link Wilfley; David Fee (Mose Timoteo @ 72), Philip Eloff (Cayo Nicolau @ 74), Kain Cross, Riaan Van Zyl; Mike Hercus, Kevin Dalzell; Mike MacDonald, Kirk Khasigian (Mark Griffin @ 75)), Dan Dorsey (Jacob Waasdorp @ 61), Dave Hodges (captain), Luke Gross, Kort Schubert (Shaun Paga @ 66, Fifita Mo'unga for Paga @ 70), Conrad Hodgson (Fifita Mo'unga @ 49-61), Dan Lyle

Japan: Tsutoma Matsuda; Daisuke Ohata, George Konia, Hideki Namba, Yohei Shinomiya (Toru Kurihara @ 72); Soshi Fuchigami, Wataru Murata (Yuji Sonoda @ 54); Shin Hasegawa, Masaaki Sakata, Masahiko Toyoyama, Koichi Kubo, Adam Parker (Lautangi Tau Vatuvei @ 67), Naoya Okubo, Takuro Miuchi, Takeomi Ito

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