USA Win War Of Attrition
The United States ground out an abrasive 13-6 victory over Rugby World Cup debutants Russia in New Plymouth on Thursday to get their campaign back on track.
The US team, which lost their opener 22-10 to Ireland, enjoyed large periods of advantage in terms of territory and possession but could not fully convert them into points in the face of a doughty Russian defence.
Mike Petri scored the only try of the game, with US fullback Chris Wyles adding a conversion and two penalties in tricky kicking conditions before the Americans held off a late fight back.
"It's an awesome feeling - I'm proud of the boys for sticking there," said USA captain Todd Clever.
"We made it tough on ourselves but the crowd helped us get through that one. I was very nervous, they're a tough team and they're improving and they're just getting better and better."
Russia struggled both at the set piece, with the scrum wilting under pressure at times and the lineout malfunctioning, and also at the breakdown where US captain Todd Clever, fellow flanker Louis Stanfill and prop Mike MacDonald were outstanding.
But it was the debutants who got off to the better start when a charged-down clearance kick saw Sergey Popov and Andrey Garbuzov go close before the US infringed at a ruck.
Flyhalf Yury Kushnarev stepped up to kick the third-minute penalty for Russia's first ever World Cup points, to roars of delight from a packed house at Yarrow Stadium.
Kushnarev failed with a second ambitious effort from 46 metres in swirling wind shortly after, but Wyles equalled the scores with an 11th minute penalty for a blatant offside in midfield.
Momentum then swung the US team's way.
America Samoa-born flyhalf Roland Suniula broke the line, passed back on his inside to centre brother Andrew who offloaded to Petri, who fended off fullback Igor Klyuchnikov to go in under the posts for a try Wyles converted.
Wyles missed a second penalty but USA suddenly looked the dominant side as the Suniula duo and Clever began to punch holes in the Russian midfield.
When the Russian scrum wilted and collapsed in their own 22m area, the US kicked for touch but could not get over the line despite a sustained period of pressure.
Unable to clear their lines and with a scrum under the cosh, Russia defended valiantly and were again let off the hook as Wyles badly skewed a third penalty attempt on the half-hour mark to make it 10-3 at half time.
Kushnarev missed a second penalty early in the second half after Northampton-bound winger Vasily Artemyev showed his capability of breaking down defences with some bullocking runs.
USA came racing back and Andrew Suniula almost crossed for a memorable try, side-stepping his way past a number of defenders but just hauled down short of the line.
Wyles then missed a third kickable penalty and a snap drop-goal, but eventually notched his second successful penalty in the 64th minute to stretch the lead to 13-3.
Centre Konstantin Rachkov cut the deficit with a second Russian penalty with three minutes to go as they threatened a late revival. But they were unable to make the pressure count and now move on to a tough game against Italy on Tuesday.
The USA take on Australia in Wellington on Friday.
SARugby.com Man of the Match: Andrew Suniula.
Russia – Penalties: Yury Kushnarev (2)
USA – Tries: Mike Petri. Conversions: Chris Wyles. Penalties: Wyles (2)