The Men's U20 Junior All-American team defeated Zimbabwe 30-29 in their final match of the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy. The U.S. team took seventh place in the JWRT with the much needed victory.
The "seventh place" title of the match did not do any justice to the stakes for both teams in the match. Neither Zimbabwe or the U.S. team had won a JWRT match coming in to this one. Understandably so, both teams wanted to perform as well as possible in order to go home with a win under their belt.
The U.S. team began the first ten minutes of their first three games down, due to quick strikes by their opponents. This match was a pleasant variation to the previous three. In the third minute Joe Cowley was able to kick through a penalty and put the U.S. ahead 3-0. This penalty would prove invaluable in the waning minutes of the match.
Zimbabwe was able to get on the board after a Sean Linfield try and conversion in the tenth minute that put them ahead 7-3.
The U.S. played more physical defense in this match, and it showed in the way they were able to hold Zimbabwe to 14 points in the first half. The defense allowed them to control the ball more and get in a rhythm; which they found in the 29th minute. U.S. lock, Dan Metcalf, put them in the lead after he scored his first try of the tournament. Joe Cowley's conversion put the U.S. in a three point lead nearing halftime.
To the pleasant surprise of the U.S. team and fans, Metcalf would not be the only try-scorer for the U.S. in the first half. Inside center, Bubba Jones, was able to score his second try of the tournament in the 34th minute and bring the score to 15-7 in favor of the U.S.
Zimbabwe quickly answered back in the 37th with a try by Tatenda Chikaka and conversion by Sean Linfield. The score at half time was 15-14, slightly in favor of the U.S.
The second half had been the most productive for the U.S. throughout the tournament and they began the second half of the seventh place match similar to that of the first half.
Apelu So'oalo was able to score from the wing in the 43rd minute and give the U.S. a 20-14 lead. Joe Cowley was unable to convert, which was notable at the time considering the lead would have been lost to a Zimbabwe try and successful conversion.
Fortunately for the U.S., Sean Linfield of Zimbabwe was unable to kick through two penalty opportunities in the 50th and 53rd minutes respectively. These two misses kept Zimbabwe from tying up the game and when they scored a try in the 61st minute, prevented them from taking a late lead in the match.
Linfield struggled with the boot on Sunday, going 2/3 on conversions, but 0/2 on penalty kicks. These points would have given Zimbabwe the victory even if Joe Cowley would have made the two conversions and one penalty that he missed.
In the crucial last twenty minutes of the match the U.S. prop, Paul Mullen, landed in the try zone for five much-needed points. Joe Cowley hit his second conversion of the day to bring the score to 27-19 with ten minutes to play.
The game was far from over in the 70th minute. Charles Jiji of Zimbabwe was able to sail a penalty kick through the uprights in the 75th minute and narrowed the U.S. lead to 5 points once again.
Joe Cowley came up big just two minutes later. He was given a penalty kick opportunity that would force Zimbabwe to score twice in order to take away the lead and win the game. Cowley nailed the kick and brought the U.S. point total to 30 against the Zimbabwe 22.
With just two minutes left Zimbabwe was able to get a try through the heroics of a Takudzwa Mandiwanza try, and Charles Jiji conversion. The score stood at 30-29, U.S., with one minute to play.
It took the U.S. team a few games to put a strong defensive stand together when they absolutely needed it. But did they ever stand tall in the final minutes of the match. Zimbabwe continually threatened to score, but the staunch U.S. defense denied them any point opportunities and won the seventh place match 30-29.
The U.S. finished the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 1-3, and come home with the distinction of seventh place title holders.
For match fixtures and results go to http://www.irb.com/jwrt/matches/match=12090/index.html.