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The USA garnered the Bronze Medal at the 2011 Pan American Games Sunday in Guadalajara, Mexico after edging Uruguay 21-17 in thrilling fashion.
The young USA team, the youngest at the tournament, continued to struggled with small mistakes, and a tough-minded Uruguayan team kept the result in doubt all the way.
The Eagles began the game pinning Uruguay deep in their end, and for a while it seemed like the perfect start – play defense near the opposition goal line, and wait for the opportunity.
But the opportunity fell for Uruguay instead. Pinged repeatedly by referee Federic Anselmi – who had been harsh on the USA on Saturday also – the Eagles gave up a couple of penalties in the ruck, and even then Uruguay needed a little luck.
Los Teros attacked from a lineout and spun the ball wide. The last pass hit the ground but was accidentally kicked ahead by a Uruguayan player. The kick fell right for Agustin Ormachea, and he was just in for the try. His kick made it 7-0 Uruguay.
Undeterred the USA tried to work their way upfield. Uruguay was wary of wing Maka Unufe, who was a scoring machine all weekend, and worked hard to bottle him up.
They also worked hard at ruck time, and another penalty for Uruguay in the ruck allowed them to get a lineout five meters from the USA tryline.
However, Zack Test made a great play to tap the ball, juggle it a moment, and bring it down. The ball was spun wide quickly and Folau Niua dummied to Unufe and passed back inside to Mile Pulu, who just kept going. Eighty meters later he had scored under the posts.
Pulu was almost away again a moment later. He opted to feed Blaine Scully, who showed just a slight hesitation when perhaps he might have just dug for the corner. Scully was stopped, and the half ended 7-7.
Zack Test found points of disagreement with referee Anselmi, as Test was whistled for coming in the side when he was the tackler.
A turnover in the ruck (that might have been a Uruguayan hand) gave Uruguay a turnover seconds into the second half. Ormachea was in at the corner to give Uruguay a 12-7.
However, the Americans replied. They kept pushing the ball up in tight while coach Al Caravelli was yelling “get it wide!”
“No one can catch Maka [Unufe] when he’s in space,” Caravelli said. It was true. The ball finally did come to him, but along the ground and behind the wing. Unufe simply picked it up, made a move, spotted and gap, and was gone. 14-12 USA led.
A smartly-taken team try put Federico Favaro in at the corner for Uruguay with about two minutes left. The USA looked in trouble, tired and hot, and now behind 17-14.
The Eagles retained ball and worked hard to stay out of the rucks and keep the ball moving. They weren’t getting any calls in the rucks, so they avoided rucks.
Working the ball down the field, the Americans moved ball to open space, where the forwards found themselves. But one of those forwards was Test. He juked a little, broke out of one tackle, breat Felipe Berchesi and galloped in under the posts. The hooter went, Niua whacked over the kick, and the USA had won 21-17.
For Test, who had not played much on Saturday, this was a huge effort. On the lineout steal that led to a try, he said “I was just going for the steal, and then tried to offload and let my boys do what they do, run free.”
Test, of course, also scored the winning try.
“I just felt the ball was in my hands, I saw open field, we had to get seven points; I wanted to score under the posts, and all I had was the scrumhalf in front of me,” said Test.
Bronze Medal Game
Tries: Unufe, Pulu, Test
Convs: Niua 3
Tries: Ormachea 2, Favaro