All Blacks cruise past USA in rugby exhibition
CHICAGO (AP) What was billed as an exhibition quickly turned into a clinic.
New Zealand's mighty All Blacks turned their USA rugby rivals blue with a bruising defense, and then green with envy as they went on the offensive, spreading the field and sending a parade of ball carriers through the gaps and over the try line Saturday on the way to 74-6 win.
''I don't see it being decades,'' USA coach Mike Tolkin said when asked how long it might take the Golden Eagles to be on an even footing with the defending World Cup champions.
''Maybe it's wishful thinking,'' he added, ''but I see the athletes there and the guys who have been professionals and the way they've performed. So hopefully, it will be a lot less (time) than that.''
The match was played in front of a sold-out Solder Field crowd of 61,500 and a national TV audience, both impressive accomplishments for a rebuilding USA program. But the action on the field was a different story.
The All Blacks used a handful of regulars in their starting lineup, and still managed a score just three minutes in on a try up the left sideline by Nathan Harris. The Golden Eagles countered with their best sustained ball possession of the match, repeatedly testing the center of the All-Blacks' defense before settling for a penalty goal from Adam Siddall to close to 5-3. That was the last moment the match was competitive.
''We got punished,'' USA captain Todd Clever said.
Few people in either camp predicted a close match during the weeklong buildup - the New Zealanders were 50-plus-point favorites in some betting lines - though the Golden Eagles were able to field their best side after USA Rugby chief executive Nigel Melville was able to get four overseas-based U.S. players released for the match. It made no difference.
New Zealand quickly and methodically spread the field with crisp ball movement and easily exploited one matchup after another. No moment better highlighted the difference in skill and speed between the sides than the second try by the All Blacks' Sonny Bill Williams up the right side barely 20 minutes into the match.
Williams had Siddall in pursuit, so he cut back toward the middle some 20 yards from the try line, where the Americans' best player, Samu Manoa, braced for the charge. But Williams, a former heavyweight boxer, showed some nifty footwork by making a sharp left turn instead, slicing between the two as Manoa, who tried tackling him low, and Siddall, who went high, collided while grasping at air.
By then, the score was 38-6 and the rout was on.
''They're a big, physical team, and they did put us under a little bit of pressure when they had the ball,'' New Zealand's Kieran Read said. ''Once we got into the game, though, and looked after the ball a bit better, it worked for us and the guys were able to showcase their skills.''
It was 43-6 by halftime and any chance of a momentum shift was quickly extinguished when the All Blacks put together another try less than a minute after intermission.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen rested his core of veteran players, including captain Richie McCaw, the most capped New Zealander of all-time and the game's only three-time international player of the year. That was because after this match, the All-Blacks cross the Atlantic and get down to business: facing more traditional and much-tougher rivals England, Scotland and Wales on successive Saturdays.
Hansen said after the match that Williams injured a thigh, and teammate Cory Jane pulled a hamstring. Neither was believed to be serious.
The USA, too, will have to pick up the pieces and get back to work in a hurry. The Golden Eagles face Romania, Tonga and Fiji later this month.
They have already qualified for the 2015 World Cup and hope to do the same for the 2016 Summer Olympics, where rugby (the seven-a-side version, instead of 15 players each) will return as a medal sport for the first time since the Americans won back-to-back gold medals in 1920 and 1924.