HONG KONG, China – The USA Rugby AIG Men’s Junior All-Americans responded to their first loss of the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2014 with a 26-25 win against Uruguay in the Third-Place Match Saturday.
The MJAAs won their first two matches on Hong Kong Football Club Ground but fell to Tonga in the third, missing out on the Final. A win in the Final would have promoted Billy Millard’s team to next year’s IRB Junior World Championship.
“They knew they made too many errors against Tonga,” the head coach said. “They had a mature approach about reviewing the performance and moved forward by training hard and sticking tight.
“The focus was on beating Uruguay and finishing the tournament well.”
The MJAAs got off to the perfect start with a try in the fourth minute from a well-worked team move. Scott Dean finished the attack to give the MJAAs a 5-0 lead.
They went back to work after the restart and drew a penalty. Flyhalf Ben Cima kicked the ball through the uprights for an 8-0 MJAA lead just six minutes into the match.
Cima kicked two more penalties from three attempts before the 26th minute, when Manuel Blengio put Uruguay’s first three points on the scoreboard with a penalty of his own to make it 14-3. Cima’s fourth and fifth penalties of the first half extended the MJAAs’ lead to 20-3 before Uruguay’s Ignacio Dotti scored an unconverted try in the 38th minute.
The teams went into the half with the MJAAs holding a close, 20-8 lead. Uruguay had only been down at halftime in one of its three previous matches at the JWRT, in a 33-28 win against eventual tournament champion Japan.
“We thought Uruguay was one of the strongest teams here in Hong Kong,” Millard said after the game. “They played a good brand of rugby and were surprised they did not make the Final, but Japan were also a very well-drilled team.”
Uruguay started the second half on the front foot with a try in the 46th minute from Diego Ardoa. Blengio scored his eighth point of the match with the conversion to make it 20-15. Claudio Pena leveled the match in the 52nd minute with an unconverted try following Niall Barry’s yellow card a minute earlier.
Uruguay lost its place-kicker, Blengio, after he was sinned in the 59th minute. Cima put through his sixth penalty in the 66th minute to put the MJAAs ahead once again at 23-20, the only points they scored during the man advantage.
The MJAAs went up 26-20 with another Cima penalty in the 34th minute, but Uruguay responded immediately with a try from Rodrigo Bocking to draw his team within one point.
Uruguay took multiple penalties and sent three players to the bin in the final five minutes of the match, but the MJAAs’ lead could have been more secure if Cima had kicked the two penalty opportunities.
The referee’s final whistled confirmed the MJAAs’ third-place finish at the JWRT, a hard-fought win against a team that has scored more tries throughout the entire tournament than the MJAAs.
“The game tonight had a bit of everything and they showed class, courage and determination to pull off the win,” Millard said. “It was a great result.
“I am very proud of the players. The preparation was limited in comparison to most of the other teams but they bought into our approach very quickly and created a culture of hard work and high standards. The management team pushed these players hard.”
Cima finished the JWRT with 58 points from 16 penalties – seven in the Third-Place Match alone – and five conversions, good for second of all players. Georgia’s Revaz Jinchvelashvili led the tournament with 63 points.
Gabe Farley and Nemia Qoro each scored two tries for the MJAAs, and Millard knows each player gained valuable experience and game time during the two weeks in China, an important step in their development as young rugby players.
“We have found some future Eagles from this group,” Millard said. “Winning the tournament is important, but developing players is also a major factor of this pathway team. Players will return to clubs and colleges with a better understanding of what is required to play professional rugby and the Eagles will also benefit in the years to come.”
USA Rugby AIG Men's Junior All-Americans | v Uruguay
1. Titi Lamositele
2. Codi Jones
3. Benjamin Tarr
4. Max Robertson
5. Oliver Drew (C)
6. Christian Weissing
7. Ben Pinkelman
8. Peter Malcolm
9. Erik Thompson
10. Ben Cima
11. Seth Halliman
12. Gabe Farley
13. Nemia Qoro
14. Scott Dean
15. Niall Barry
USA Rugby AIG Men's Junior All-Americans | Reserves
16. Marshall Godfrey
17. Val Lee-Lo (@ 69')
18. Zach Bonte
19. Vili Toluta'u (@ 53')
20. Mike Reid (@ 65')
21. David Todd
22. Connor Wallace-Sims
USA Rugby AIG Men's Junior All-Americans | 26
Penalties: Cima (7)
Uruguay | Roster
1. Facundo Gattas
2. Claudio Pena
3. Luis Leites
4. Gonzalo Soto
5. Ignacio Dotti
6. Emiliano Correa
7. Phil Johnson
8. Tomas Grundwalt
9. Baltasar Brum
10. Manuel Blengio
11. Andres Banchieri
12. Rodrigo Bocking
13. Pedro Deal
14. Santiago Carrasco
15. Matias Pla (C)
Uruguay | Reserves
16. German Kessler (@ 40')
17. Rafael Mones (40')
18. Diego Larrauri (@ 54')
19. Diego Arbelo (60')
20. Manuel Castro (@ 40')
21. Diego Ardao (@ 17')
22. Facundo Klappenbach (@ 40')
Uruguay | 25
Tries: Dotti, Ardao, Pena, Bocking