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Down 13-10 and bashing their head against a tough, beef-fed Uruguayan wall, the USA Men's National Team needed a break, a special moment, a jolt.
It came in the guise of scrumhalf Mike Petri,
who was the best player on the field for either side Saturday. Petri was a
terrier around the breakdown, quickly chasing after each opportunity to
feed the ball out to his players. He provided leadership, as did Todd
Clever, and handled being manhandled throughout the game.
But that moment, 60 minutes into the game, the USA was still behind in a game they had to win. Then, after a surge into the Uruguayan 22, the Eagles got a penalty. Called back from a quick tap earlier in the game, Petri, who already had the ball, made eye contact with the referee, tapped, and zoomed past a group of incredulous Uruguayan forwards. And, he kept going, through a seam and around the final defender to score, soaring, under the posts.
In the press conference after the game, Petri deflected the praise.
"[Uruguay] made the breakdowns a contest each and every time, and it was
tough, but we knew that if we stuck to our systyems eventually we would
wear them down," Petri said. "We had the confidence to do that, and credit
to our team thye guys were otustanding, their their attitude and energy
were amazing. I credit our forwards [for the try]. Our tight five, our back
row were really making the Uruguayan fellas work. We saw that the
opportunity called for us to inject some pace, but the credit really goes
to those guys for setting me up."
That's when captain Todd Clever spoke up.
"I'm going to have to interrupt you on that one," Clever said. "It was a heads up play. Peaches is one of the smartest guys, rugby-IQ-wise. He saw a gap and they were late to get back and, Peaches, it was all you."
And it was. Petri is fast, tough, smart, and makes plays. And this was a big play.
"I knew I had support with me, that no matter what happened we'd made the gain line and we were on the front foot, and that's what this game was about," said Petri, giving as close to an acknowledgement of his own achievement as he is likely to give.
It was about making the gain line and going forward, but it was also, crucially, about scoring, and that try, which put the Eagles in front, energized the fans and the players, and changed the game.