Rugby World Cup 2003
Fiji pip USA in a heartstopper
October 15, 2003
Fiji lock Api Naevo celebrates his try
© Getty Images
Outstanding US defense wasn't quite enough to get the Eagles home as Fiji triumphed 19-18 in a heartstopper in their Pool B clash at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
The USA scored two tries to one, but it was the boot of Fijian flyhalf Nicky Little that got the islanders home. Little kicked four penalties and a conversion, although the scoreboard could've read a 'W' for the United States had five-eighth Mike Hercus been able to convert his team's second try, scored right on full-time.
With the clock winding down and Fiji ahead 19-13, the USA had one last throw of the dice. The Eagles rose to the challenge and mounted sustained pressure through multiple phase play that saw flanker Kort Schubert crash over in the corner to bring the US to within a point, but it left Hercus with a difficult shot at goal from the sideline.
The young pivot, who rarely misses a kick, had an off night with the boot and his final shot at goal fell short of the mark, giving the Fijians a lucky one-point victory.
The game was a stark contrast with the US playing very structured rugby, as opposed to the Fijians, who were prepared to run the ball at every opportunity and from anywhere on the field. Replacement winger Vilimoni Delasau, in for the suspended Caucau, ran riot all night and would've scored at least twice in the first half, if not for that scrambling American 'D'.
The US forwards dominated play in tight and were brilliant in the lineout, stealing five Fiji throw-ins in the first half. Captain Dave Hodges led by example and was ably assisted by eightman Dan Lyle and Schubert.
In the backs, outside center Phillip Eloff made exceptional tackles time and time again, several of them try savers, while his Chicago Lions teammate Paul Emerick was solid at fullback. The United States led 6-3 at halftime following penalty goals by Hercus (2) and Little respectively.
It was the US who scored the first try of the game in the 43rd minute when Hercus spotted some open space on the left flank and cleverly kicked ahead. In a play reminiscent of a move used by his Super League club Belmont Shore, there was no one home for Fiji as winger Riaan van Zyl scooped up the bouncing ball and went in untouched for the score.
Hercus was good on the points after and the US extended their lead to 13-3. That score seemed to spark Fiji into life, as they'd been fairly lethargic up to that point. At around 50 minutes, Little booted a penalty to narrow the gap and then just four minutes later, big second rower Api Naevo finished off a length of the field movement to dot down under the posts.
Little's conversion was successful to lock up the score at 13-13. The Fijians lifted the tempo of the match in an effort to break the deadlock and again it was Little who edged his team in front with another penalty goal at 58 minutes.
The Americans, however, weren't prepared to concede any ground and props Mike MacDonald and Dan Dorsey each flattened Fijian ball carriers in successive movements. Another Little penalty, with under ten minutes to go, put Fiji out by 19-13 and they looked to be safely home.
But again the Eagles answered the challenge and threw everything they had left at the opposition. More multi-phase possession saw the forwards crashing and bulling their way towards the tryline and they were rewarded when Schubert finished it off with the try as the full-time whistle was about to blow.
Hercus, feeling the pressure of his first World Cup game, was wide and short