USA Rugby World Cup History Part 5: vs New Zealand 1991

Chris O'Brien, 2015, USA Men's Eagles Kicking & Special Teams Coach
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In preparation for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Rugby Rain Man Collective member Ryan Day is providing match reviews and analysis of all the Rugby World Cup games in USA Rugby history.

FT WAYNE, IN – Next for the Eagles were the defending World Cup champions New Zealand at Kingsholm in Gloucester. (This site will host USA vs. Japan in the upcoming RWC 2015.) In their opening match, the All Blacks defeated England at Twickenham 18-12. Much easier work would be expected for them in this match and they gave 3 players their debut caps: fly half Jon Preston, wing Inga Tuigamala, and prop Graham Purvis. The Eagles made 8 changes from the Italy test, with Kevin Swords taking the captaincy following Brian Vizard’s injury.

Kingsholm Stadium, home to Gloucester Rugby
Kingsholm Stadium, home to Gloucester Rugby

A couple minutes in, Preston punts from his own end but Tuigamala is judged offsides ahead of the kick by Argentine referee Efraim Sklar. Swords opts for the scrum at place of kick and Eagle fly half Chris O’Brien does a huge garryowen in front of the posts to threaten but Eagle center Joe Burke is whistled for a flying forearm in the tackle of All Black fullback Terry Wright. All Blacks take quickly and get downfield followed by another Eagle penalty. Preston points to posts and misses left.

The Eagles steal the ensuing lineout from the 22 drop, win a scrum penalty, and O’Brien kicks to touch downfield. They steal another lineout from the All Blacks, and O’Brien does a garryowen that center Mark Williams wins from All Black wing John Timu (the color analyst tells us “he was only a mile offsides”). Good work from the Eagles that almost results in a breakthrough as Eagle wing Eric Whitaker punts and the ball gets deflected right to the arms of fullback Paul Sheehy on the sideline.  Sheehy makes a line break, but he just stepped into touch. Ten minutes in the All Blacks are whistled for a penalty at the lineout. The color analyst says the All Blacks are looking weak not yet counteracting the (illegal) pushing from the Eagles going on in the lineout. Great play from the Eagles so far while the All Blacks are sleepwalking.

All Blacks start to look like a good team when they move the ball through hands but the Eagles defense contain solidly. With Preston running with Tuigamala to his outside, Eagle wing Gary Hein goes to tackle Preston, knocks on the ball, and Sklar calls intentional knock. All Blacks go for posts as the crowd boos, but Preston makes it 3-0.

Williams kicks through the try zone for a 22 drop and New Zealand are offsides when they kick. So the Eagles choose to go for posts with Chris O’Brien. O’Brien, as of this match, was the Eagles’ all-time leading point scorer with 89 points. O’Brien’s kick from a bad angle was just wide. After the All Blacks clear, there’s another O’Brien garryowen, and the Eagles are able to win a scrum. It looks to be that the American strategy for this World Cup is to move the ball forward through the boot.

Chris O'Brien, 2015, USA Men's Eagles Kicking & Special Teams Coach
Chris O’Brien, 2015, USA Men’s Eagles Kicking & Special Teams Coach

From an All Black lineout, they move the ball toward the try line from good open field passing, a couple forward-moving mauls, and quick ball once the ruck is formed. They get to the try line where Sklar calls the ball held up. All Blacks shove the scrum forward, and #8 Andy Earl picks up to run to touch down for the try. Preston pushes the kick in front of the posts, All Blacks 7-0.

Then the All Blacks finally start to resemble the All Blacks. They quick tap a lineout penalty and flanker Michael Jones makes a linebreak after O’Brien misses a tackle. Ball goes through the backs’ hands to Terry Wright wide who scores the try. Preston misses from the sideline.

Off a scrum, Preston kicks a grubber that New Zealand center Craig Innes kicks on the hop behind the Eagle defense. Whitaker chases and tries to kick and clear but whiffs. In the commotion a scrum results where, off the take and a couple switches, the Eagles defense loses form and the ball is thrown wide to Wright for try #3. Preston converts to make it 17-0.

New Zealand steal the ball from a maul at midfield and throw the ball back to Preston, but his kick is charged down and recovered by Burke. Preston manages to save the try by tackling Burke’s shoelaces. From the ensuing ruck, Sklar whistles the All Blacks offsides. Williams makes an easy penalty to give the U.S. their first points to the cheers of the crowd. All Blacks recover the kickoff, do a solid forward maul, find Wright in space who makes for the try line but is tackled just short. Shortly after, the Eagles are whistled for diving into the ruck, and Preston makes the penalty, NZ 20-3.

Williams sends the kickoff into the try zone as he has all game; the Eagles, from the 22 drop, get a scrum from an All Black knock-on deep in their end. O’Brien attempts a drop goal straight off the scrum, but it’s wide right at the stroke of halftime.

Second half begins and a penalty comes the All Blacks’ way deep in the Eagles’ end, and the All Blacks opt not to kick the penalty. All Blacks go weak side and the forwards push forward so Purvis scores a try on his debut test. Preston misses, New Zealand 24-3.

Both sides play some enterprising rugby until Eagle prop Chris Lippert is down injured on the field. Lippert gets up and walks off on his own power but clearly groggy.  He is replaced by Lance Manga. Discipline starts to fail as the Eagles give up another penalty that leads to a scrum deep in the Eagles’ end. From the scrum, the ball goes from scrum half Graeme Bachop to Innes to Bachop to Timu for the try. Preston continues being a wayward placekicker.

From a lineout, there’s an infringement against the All Blacks. The lineout in 1991 looks about like 2010’s scrums as far as “your guess is as good as mine”. Williams make the penalty.

The game from here is some back-and-forth between the two sides. One highlight is Gary Hein catching a ball kicked to touch then throwing the ball back in quickly with an accurate quarterback-style throw more than half the width of the field. Eagles are finding some success with the up-and-unders as the All Blacks’ catching hands are letting them down. The main difference between the All Blacks and the Eagles offensively is that the All Blacks run onto the passed ball so well which gives less time for the defense to react. But the Eagles are playing better rugby than they did vs. Italy.

The All Blacks are not kept at bay too long, however, as a well-placed Tuigamala kick finds Sheehy who is tackled in the try zone for the 5-meter scrum. The ball finds its way to Timu who carves through the American defense to 5 meters out. The ball is then thrown wide to Tuigamala who scores. Preston converts, 34-6.

Michael Jones, in the following play, makes some good ground and completes a great pass to Ian Jones. Ian gets to just a yard short of the try line until the ball gets stolen by O’Brien to save the try. A 5-meter scrum results, and Preston passes to Innes who exploits the gap to score. Preston converts to bring up 40. The commentator says the going expectation for the All Blacks was 50 or 60. The game plays a few more minutes where Gary Hein almost pulls off an intercept but is whistled for a harsh deliberate knock-on. After kicking for touch, the ball goes through the backs where Timu passes inside to Wright who gets his hat trick try. Preston makes 46-6 for the last play of the game.

Post-match All Blacks captain Gary Whetton was disappointed with the All Blacks’ performance. They would go on to lose in the semifinals to eventual champions Australia. Swords says they played better rugby than they did against Italy while ruing the late scores as the Eagles got disheveled. Swords, with this game, became the most capped Eagle ever at the time.

USA – New Zealand – October 8, 1991 – Kingsholm – Gloucester, England

USA: 1. Chris Lippert, 2. Pat Johnson, 3. Norm Mottram, 4. Kevin Swords (capt.), 5. Chuck Tunnacliffe, 6. Mark Sawicki, 7. Shawn Lipman, 8. Tony Ridnell, 9. Mark Pidcock, 10. Chris O’Brien, 11. Eric Whitaker, 12. Joe Burke, 13. Mark Williams, 14. Gary Hein, 15. Paul Sheehy, Substitute: 16. Lance Manga

New Zealand: 1. Steve McDowell, 2. Sean Fitzpatrick, 3. Graham Purvis, 4. Ian Jones, 5. Gary Whetton (capt.), 6. Alan Whetton, 7. Michael Jones, 8. Andy Earl, 9. Graeme Bachop, 10. Jon Preston, 11. Inga Tuigamala, 12. Bernie McCahill, 13. Craig Innes, 14. John Timu, 15. Terry Wright

New Zealand- 46 (20)
Tries: Earl, Wright (3), Purvis, Timu, Tuigamala, Innes
Conversions: Preston (4/8)
Penalties: Preston (2/3)

USA- 6 (3)
Penalties: O’Brien (0/1), Williams (2/2)
Drop Goals: O’Brien (0/1)

My Man of the Match: Terry Wright (see below), New Zealand

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About Ryan Day 7 Articles
Ryan Day is part of that group of Rugby Know-It-Alls known as the Rugby Rain Man Collective. American-born, he is a mechanical engineer which means his analytical mind doesn't just ask "why?"... he makes it a goal to understand the "causes" of a problem - like why can't American Rugby produce props or fly halves? - and providing solutions. Ryan first watched rugby in the 2007 Rugby World Cup and began playing two years later. Ryan currently resides in Indiana and plays actively for his local club, Fort Wayne, after spending time playing with Raleigh.