The USA made an impressive start in their quest to advance to the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, posting a 40-4 victory over South Africa in Game 1 of the Atlantic Zone qualifying series in Philadelphia.
The game was compelling throughout despite the final margin with some stunning plays on attack and numerous big hits on defence. There were numerous stoppages caused by injuries to players as a consequence of the physicality of the contest.
A strong breeze at kick off proved not to be a problem for the Tomahawks, who bagged five unanswered first half tries en route to a healthy 24-0 half time advantage.
“Regardless of the result, I think we had 34 young men really commit themselves and put on a great physical spectacle,” said USA head coach Matt Elliott. “Both countries are pioneering rugby league and what they’re actually doing for the code is something really special.”
The Americans were first on the board when winger Nate Smith made his presence felt by picking off an errant Rhinos’ pass to set up the opening try of the game by fellow winger Sione Taufa. Shortly after, second rower Mark Cantoni went over, converted by stand off Joseph Paulo, for a 10-0 score line.
South Africa showed glimpses of enterprising play but the USA’s solid defensive line snuffed out any opportunities.
The Tomahawks stretched their lead when back-rower Sean Taylor crashed over and another successful conversion by Paulo saw the home lead grow to 16-0.
Soon after, Taylor was in for his second and then veteran forward Curtis Cunz closed out the first half with an unconverted try.
The South Africans suffered several injuries in the first 40 minutes and needed an early lift at the start of the second period, however, the Americans maintained their stranglehold.
The Tomahawks started the second period the way they had finished the first with Cunz notching his second touchdown, Paulo again good with the extras and the lead blew out to 30-0.
The brutal home defence paid further dividends when hard-running Danny Howard crossed for the Tomahawks, Paulo adding his fourth conversion and as the match moved into the final quarter, Tomahawks centre Mitchell Stevens crossed for the USA’s eighth and final try for a 40-0 margin.
After full back Christof Swanepoel sustained a concussion in a heavy tackle and was stretchered off the field, the Rhinos were finally rewarded for their efforts with a late try by winger Johan Fritz although it was too little, too late.
“We’re very satisfied obviously with the result coming off a very short preparation,” added Coach Elliott.
South Africa earned credit for not throwing in the towel. “It was a great physical game that we expected from the start,” said South African head coach Steven van Zyl.
“To the American side, I think they played magnificent rugby league and we were a little bit disappointing. Our game plan didn’t come to light. At stages we did try something new and they closed us down very quickly.”
Joseph Paulo was named MVP for the Tomahawks, while Stevie Meyer was South Africa’s best.
Michael Garvey, Andrew Kneisly (Aston Bulls), David Marando (Belrose Eagles), Curtis Cunz (Connecticut Wildcats), Mark Offerdahl (Easts Tigers), Mitchell Stevens (Gateshead Thunder), Apple Pope (Jacksonville) (Capt), Nate Smith (Louisville), Sione Taufa (Maui Voyagers), Ian Elliott, Sean Taylor (NY Knights), Mark Cantoni (Northern Pride), Joseph Paulo (Parramatta Eels), Junior Paulo (Penrith Panthers), Stephen Howard (Tuggeranong Valley), Daniel Howard (Wentworthville Magpies), Matt Petersen (unattached)
SOUTH AFRICA: 4
Henry du Toit, Stevie Meyer, Gerrie Slabber, Christoff Swanepoel (Bloemfontein Roosters, Orange Free State), Francois Greyvensteyn, Christo Joubert, Andre Loader (Capt), Andre Olwagen, Rudi Prinsloo (Brakpan Bears, Eastern Gauteng), Johan Fritz (Middelburg Tigers, Mpumalanga Province), Hans du Plessis, Deon Kraemer, Christo Louw, Sivive Mpondo, JP Nel, Marcelle Slabbert, Jonothan Soares (Tuks Bulls, Northern Gauteng)