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Victory Redemptive for USA Women

Wednesday Aug 19, 2009 in Women National Teams

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(Amy Daniels scores again for the Eagles. Bill English photo.)

If you’re a pessimist, you’re either always right or pleasantly surprised. So when Canada camped out in USA territory for the first 10 minutes of their Nations Cup match, the pessimistic fans suspected that the Eagles were simply holding off an attack that would amass once the early-minutes jitters wore off.

But no USA fan could be displeased with the turnaround, as the USA topped Canada 15-10 with the last play of the game.

Again, it was a tale of two halves. Canada pierced deeply into USA territory a number of times, but the Eagles’ red zone defense was solid. Between the 22s, there were some defensive gaps that allowed Canada to stretch their legs – whether an overanxious defender overshot the ball carrier, or a quick change of possession took advantage of a slow transition to defense. Canada wing Brittany Waters, in particular, took advantage of the turnovers and found overlap lanes on the wing, and eventually galloped down the touch line for the game’s first try in the corner, 5-0.

The USA continued to struggle with its lineout, and when a throw-in went awry, Canada flanker Kelly Russell tore deep into the belly of the USA’s half. She initiated a number phases that scrambled the defense, but fortunately for the Eagles, the Canadian lineouts weren’t much better, and the set piece became an area of great contention.

The Eagles offense seemed like it was still trying to get used to each other. The first half saw several blown attempts in the red zone, resulting in knock-ons or missed off-loads.

“It’s not that we’re slow to gain momentum,” center Amy Daniels said trying to temper the criticism. “We’re reading things about our opponents and always adjusting.”

Which would help explain the turn of the tide in the second stanza. Daniels, who had some handling issues in the first half, more than made up for any errors she might have made.

“It’s like we were waiting for something to set us off,” Daniels said of her try early in the second half. “And after the first try, we were like, “OK, let’s do this.’”

Within the 22 meter line, Daniels got the ball nearly standing still close to the breakdown. Canadian No. 8 Barbara Mervin slammed into the center’s midsection, driving her back slightly, but not down. Daniels bounced off the attempted tackle, saw the zig zag alignment of the Canadian defense as they drifted left, and went in under the posts nearly untouched.

“No, I wasn’t surprised that I went in untouched,” Daniels said. “I recognized the inside-out pattern right away and knew had to throw off the sliding defense.”

Flyhalf Stephanie Bruce, who had some problems finding touch during the match, nailed the conversion, 7-5.

The spark seemed to work, and the Eagles picked up the pressure across the board. Christy Ringgenberg came on for Vanesha McGee and ate up the space on the outside nicely. Combining with Ashley English at fullback, the duo made some decent gains off the lineout when it went from Bruce to English inserting to Ringgenberg, who booted the ball down the line for a foot race.

Phaidra Knight seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and returned a number of botched lineout balls or mishandled scrumhalf passes for significant gains. She and Kristin Zdanczewicz were hitting hard, forcing some bobbled balls up for grabs, and forcing Canada to commit holding on penalties as they poached for the ball.

The pressure offered another reward in the form of a penalty, which Bruce hit easily in front of the posts, 10-5.

But Canada wasn’t finished. Suddenly Russell was tearing through the midsection again, off to the races. Ringgenberg chased her down close to the 22, but an offload later Tara Eckert was in and Canada had tied it up, 10-all. Eckert had tried to center the ball and didn’t quite make it. Flyhalf Anna Schnell’s conversion attempt ricochets off the far post.

There were only a few minutes left at this point, so the Eagles must have been thanking their lucky stars they weren’t two points behind.

Not satisfied with a lucky tie, the USA marched the ball back. With the minutes winding down, the crowd cheered for every tackle, overemphasized every favorable penalty.

From the USA’s side of the 50 meter, the final drive kicked off with Knight picking up from a wheeling scrum. She cut through the pitch 7s style and gained well over 20 meters before going down. As the ball slowed, Canada presented what looked like an impenetrable defensive line. The ball was sent wide quickly into the hands of Daniels, who had Beantown teammate Emilie Bydwell to her outside.

“Amy sucked in two defenders,” Bydwell remembered between labored, joyous breaths, “and dished to me over her shoulder. Then it was just a one-on-one near the touchline. I knew if I cut back in I could beat her since I was bigger.”

And that she did. The inside center took one hard cut back inside and slid into the corner untouched. The tough conversion fell short, but the 15-10 lead was all the Eagles needed, as the final whistle sounded after the kick.

The Eagles erupted in celebration, along with their dozen fans in the crowd (though they sounded 100 strong). Bydwell said of the redemptive win against Canada,

“We’ve been working toward this since December 2007 at the England tour. It’s fantastic. We’ve come so far.”

The USA is now second in the Nation’s Cup and can secure that position with a victory over France Saturday at Fletcher’s Field.

USA 15

Tries: Daniels, Bydwell   

Conversions: Bruce

Penalties: Bruce

1. Stacy Baker,2. Mari Wallace, 3. Lara Vivolo (Jamie Burke), 4. Jenny Menke, 5. Jillion Potter (Sharon Blaney), 6. Phaidra Knight, 7. Kristin Zdanczewicz, 8. Melanie Denham (Blair Groefsema), 9. Claudia Braymer, 10. Stephanie Bruce, 11. Nathalie Marchino (Melanie Kanuk), 12. Emilie Bydwell, 13. Amy Daniels, 14. Vanesha McGee (Christy Ringgenberg), 15.Ashley English.


Canada 10
Tries: Waters, Eckert

1. Kim Donaldson, 2. Ashley MacDonald, 3. Marlene Donaldson, 4. Marie-Eve Brindamour-Carignan, 5. Paige Burdett, 6. Kelly Russell, 7. Heather Jaques, 8. Barbara Mervin, 9. Julia Sugawara, 10. Anna Schnell, 11. Tara Eckert, 12. Stevi Schnoor, 13. Sarah Ulmer, 14. Brittany Waters, 15. Cheryl Phillips.


Reserves: 16. Leslie Cripps, 17. Lesley McKenzie, 18. Danielle Rowlands, 19. Megan Gibbs, 20. Maria Gallo, 21. Laura Stoughton, 22. Juilianne Zussman.

- Jackie Finlan

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