After their heartbreaking loss to Kenya on Saturday, the USA U20 team was in a position where they not only needed to beat undefeated Namibia, but also score at least four tries in the effort.
Taking a note from the Kenyans, the USA turned a 17-15 deficit with five minutes left to play into a thrilling 29-24 victory. The win (and four tries) puts the U20’s into the championship game of the International Rugby Board’s Junior World Trophy. A win in the championship will vault the team back into the top tier of U20 rugby.
The game started off tight with the forwards from both teams putting in a lot of work and tackling hard. The USA were first on the board when wing Brett Thompson crossed over in the corner. The score was a result of sustained pressure by the USA.
The USA came right back with another try when second row Kyle Stroman crossed over. Fullback Robert Johnson converted and the USA had a 12-0 lead halfway through the first half—things were looking good.
Namibia answered the USA score with a penalty after a dangerous tackle by flyhalf Tai Enosa. Enosa showed plenty of potential throughout the match, steering the game and kicking well. He also showed his inexperience, at times, trying to be a little too fancy. Regardless, he is one to keep an eye on in the future.
The USA were given a golden opportunity to increase their lead when a Namibia forward got a yellow card late in the half.
However, the USA were the ones under pressure for the remainder of the half as Namibia, down a man, came alive. The USA were desperately defending their try line when the half came to a close.
Halfway to their goal, the USA let themselves down by coming out of the gates slowly in the second half, and Namibia took the lead with two converted tries. The USA then cut the lead with a penalty from Johnson and the score stood at 17-15.
With their finals hopes slipping away, the game became very scrappy as the USA desperately tried to put something together offensively.
With just under 10 minutes left in the game, they finally broke through. With a scrum just inside the Namibia 22, No. 8 Cameron Dolan surged from the back of a strong scrum, fended off a tackler, put in a nice run, and offloaded to Tai Enosa who came through with a cutting line to finish. Enosa would convert the score and the USA took a 22-17 lead.
While a win would be encouraging, anything short of a final would be a disappointment for the USA.
With less than five minutes on the clock and momentum turned in their favor, the U20’s took the restart. A nice run by Matt Hughston put the USA in the Namibia half. Brett Thompson ate up some territory to push the USA closer to the goal line.
The USA forwards were controlling possession. Kyle Stroman picked the ball up from the back of a ruck and found a gap before offloading to David Tameilau for another USA try.
Enosa converted again and the USA took a commanding 29-17 lead with just minutes to go. With one score the USA crushed both Namibia and Kenya’s hopes of reaching the finals.
Namibia would score at the death, but it was far too late as the USA U20’s won 29-24.
It was an amazing comeback for the U20’s as the pressure was on and they had their backs to the wall. It was the type of exciting finish that often eludes USA 15’s teams.
The USA will now face off against the winner of Chile and Romania in the Junior World Trophy Championship that takes place on Sunday.