In preparation for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Rugby Rain Man Collective member Ryan Day will provide a match review and analysis of all the Rugby World Cup games in USA Rugby history.
Fort Wayne, IN – The U.S. qualified for the 1999 Rugby World Cup in much easier circumstances than for 1995 as the tournament had increased to 20 teams. The RWC was back in the Northern Hemisphere, meaning each Five Nations team was hosting games, and the U.S. were drawn into the Irish group. The commentary crew introduces us to captain Dan Lyle saying he and the Eagles have a sturdy task in front of them after losing to England 106-8 the preceding August. Lansdowne Road is about half-full in poor weather conditions.
Game kicks off and not long into it, the U.S. are whistled for a scrum penalty just outside the Eagle 22. The Irish threaten a try, but a few meters out Eagle fly half Mark Williams gives up a penalty that Irish fly half David Humphreys kicks easily enough for the early lead. Williams is the one holdover in the squad remaining from the 1991 World Cup.
Early the Eagles struggle to do anything with possession. Ireland do a chip kick over the top that Eagle wing Brian Hightower sprints backward to get, just short of the try line. He’s tackled in the try zone creating a 5-meter scrum. Another scrum penalty results when Eagle prop George Sucher is whistled for bringing the scrum down and the Irish go for the lineout. Off the lineout and ruck, Humphreys finds Justin Bishop who runs through the gap to score a try untouched. Humphreys converts, Ireland 10-0. David Humphreys is currently the Director of Rugby at Gloucester.
Scrum in the Irish half of the field for the Eagles, they get the ball out but when Williams tries to pass to wing Vaea Anitoni on his inside, Anitoni knocks on. Irish #8 Dion O’Cuinneagain picks it up and passes to fullback Conor O’Shea. O’Shea is tackled by Hightower and center Juan Grobler, and the ball goes up in the air right to the accepting hands of American scrum half Kevin Dalzell, who only has daylight between him and the try line to score out wide. Curious decision from French referee Joel Dume as he gave a very short scrum advantage from Anitoni’s knock on. Williams misses the kick, Ireland 10-5.
Ireland do a great lineout maul in the American half of the field, but when flanker Trevor Brennan peels off the back, Lyle tackles him and steals the ball. Lyle dishes it to prop Ray Lehner, who starts a linebreak with flanker Richard Tardits and center Tomasi Takau, but Takau makes a forward pass to end it. A scrum penalty to the Eagles’ detriment follows, the scrum dominance well established.
After Humphreys aims for touch, the Eagles win the lineout and choose to run it out. Takau gets gang tackled and loses the ball forward. Irish lock Paddy Johns flings to center Kevin Maggs who passes to a player you might have heard of named Brian O’Driscoll that takes the score. This was the first international try in his career. He would score 46 more being a talisman of the Irish team and the face of the sport in the country in the 2000s decade and beyond. Humphreys converts, 17-5 Ireland.
Maggs gets clattered in the tackle and drops the ball deep in the Eagles’ end, creating an Eagle linebreak. Takau runs to midfield before the Irish deflect the pass backwards to halt the break. In the ensuing ruck before a penalty is called against Ireland, Lehner and Irish lock Jeremy Davidson are shoving each other drawing the attention of referee Dume, and prompting chuckles from the commentators as they remark on the Prince of Wales opening the tournament the preceding day and using the term “friendlies.” Dalzell takes the penalty and makes it, Ireland 17-8.
Eagles concede another penalty deep in their end and the Irish opt for the lineout. Throw is taken deep and the Irish maul their way to a try with hooker Keith Wood. Humphreys is given credit for making a conversion that he looks to have missed.
The rest of the half plays out with each team going back and forth but nothing resulting. Mark Williams at the stroke of halftime decided to go for goal for a penalty from just inside his own half at an angle. Williams is on target but is short. It’s cleared and the Eagles go into halftime down 24-8. The Eagles are greatly struggling on all set pieces, as the scrum and lineout are being dominated.
The second half starts, and quickly the Eagles are in the Irish half but the ball is lost on 2nd phase and Humphreys clears all the way to the other end of the field, forcing Hightower to run back and become lone man downfield again. Irish pressure is sustained and an Eagle 5-meter lineout comes from a grubber kicked behind the defense line. Everyone thinks Irish scrum half Tom Tierney scores a try, but the ball was knocked on by the Irish in the lineout resulting in an Eagle 5-meter scrum. The Eagle scrum goes straight backward and Dume whistles a penalty against the Eagles for pulling down in the scrum. They do it again, same result, and Dume awards a penalty try. Humphreys converts, 31-8.
After a little more play, David Niu comes on to replace Williams at fly half. Niu, an Australian by birth, would go on to be the chief proponent of rugby league in the U.S. in retirement, running the American National Rugby League (AMNRL) and the U.S. rugby league national team – the Tomahawks.
After Dan Lyle forces a turnover, the U.S. on the 2nd phase knock the ball on when Tardits fumbles a short pop pass. Hands in this game for the U.S. have been quite poor. Most of the time the ball goes out past the fly half, it’s knocked on. O’Driscoll just about makes a linebreak but a shoestring tackle saves the U.S.; commentators are gushing about his play. Humphreys goes over the top but fullback Kurt Shuman calls a mark to reduce the pressure. Shortly after, Tardits is replaced by Tasi Mo’unga, “a South Pacific Islander with a reputation for crushing tackles.”
The most promising bit of play from the Eagles in this half is off a penalty kick to touch. Eagles win the lineout, do a maul, and Dan Lyle and Billups make good ground peeling off from the back. Once again, though, hands fail them on the pass to Takau and he knocks on.
Some aerial ping pong ensues, and Hightower, who has been by far the most active member of the back three, takes a kick and mistakenly kicks straight into touch. Ireland win a scrum penalty and kick to touch to do the lineout and subsequent maul. The Irish use multiple phases to advance the ball until Dume gives Ireland a penalty at 5 meters out and they choose to take a scrum. The Irish #8 has options outside but gets White Line Fever, resulting in the ball being held up in the try zone. From the second scrum, the Eagles still keep Ireland out, but Dume gives Dan Lyle a yellow card for blatantly going offsides around the ruck and laying on the ball. Humphreys makes the penalty, 34-8.
Ireland are attacking the gainline with pace now and exposing the American defense. You can see O’Driscoll showing some advance glimpses of the great player he’d become, albeit against limited opposition. Humphreys leaves the game, replaced by Eric Elwood at fly half. On the next play with the Eagles backed up to their try line and a scrum, Dalzell picks up the ball and is immediately tackled by O’Cuinneagain. O’Cuinneagain never lets Dalzell go, and Keith Wood steals the ball from Dalzell to score his second try. Elwood makes the conversion, 41-8.
From the lineout inside 10 meters, the Irish maul that has been superb all match continues. They get to a meter or two short before going into touch. Prop Mark Scharrenberg comes on for Takau. The Eagle lineout is stolen by Ireland and Wood gets his hat trick try by catching a ball deflected to him and diving over. Elwood makes a beautiful kick at the sideline, 48-8.
After another Eagle penalty that the Irish kick to touch, the ball is in front of the sticks in a ruck. Elwood does a marvelous chip kick into the try zone. Out wide is… hooker Keith Wood to fall onto the ball to score his 4th try. Elwood misses from wide, 53-8.
The last fireworks come as Luke Gross and Paddy Johns throw punches at one another. Game shortly after is whistled dead. Ireland would go on to lose to Australia in the group stage, and then suffer a famous loss to Argentina in Lens, France, in the playoff round.
There are some times you lose games where you play a better team than you, but you can take some comfort in playing well for your skill level and giving a good fight. This game was not that for the Eagles. Both set pieces were a shambles, they were unable to do multiple phases on offense, and the one try they did get was a questionable referee decision. There were few positives for the Eagles to take from the match.
USA – Ireland – October 2, 1999 – Lansdowne Road – Dublin, Ireland
USA: 1. George Sucher, 2. Tom Billups, 3. Ray Lehner, 4. Luke Gross, 5. Alec Parker, 6. Dave Hodges, 7. Richard Tardits, 8. Dan Lyle (capt.), 9. Kevin Dalzell, 10. Mark Williams, 11. Brian Hightower, 12. Tomasi Takau, 13. Juan Grobler, 14. Vaea Anitoni, 15. Kurt Shuman, Substitutes: 16. Mark Scharrenberg, 17. David Niu, 18. Shaun Paga, 19. Tasi Mo’unga, 20. Kirk Khasigian
Ireland: 1. Peter Clohessy, 2. Keith Wood, 3. Paul Wallace, 4. Paddy Johns, 5. Jeremy Davidson, 6. Trevor Brennan, 7. Andy Ward, 8. Dion O’Cuinneagain (capt.), 9. Tom Tierney, 10. David Humphreys, 11. Matt Mostyn, 12. Kevin Maggs, 13. Brian O’Driscoll, 14. Justin Bishop, 15. Conor O’Shea, Substitutes: 16. Jonathan Bell, 17. Eric Elwood, 18. Brian O’Meara, 19. Eric Miller, 20. Malcolm O’Kelly, 21. Ross Nesdale, 22. Justin Fitzpatrick
Ireland- 53 (24)
Tries: Bishop, O’Driscoll, Wood (4), Penalty try
Conversions: Humphreys (4/4), Elwood (2/3)
Penalties: Humphreys (2/2)
USA- 8 (8)
Conversion: Williams (0/1)
Penalty: Dalzell (1/1), Williams (0/1)
My Man of the Match: Keith Wood, Ireland
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