The Maori All Blacks were forced to overturn a half-time deficit to claim their second win of their North American tour with a hard-fought 29-19 victory over the USA Eagles in Philadelphia on Saturday.
Two second-half tries from skipper Tim Bateman sparked the tourists into life after a lacklustre first half left them trailing 7-9 at the interval in front of a sold-out crowd of 18,500 people at PPL Park.
Energized from the fans' response to the Maori All Blacks' Haka with chants of "USA," the Eagles kept the All Blacks on their own side of the field in the opening minutes.
In the sixth minute, the Eagles conceded a penalty, giving the All Blacks a line-out with good field position following a kick to touch. Jamison Gibson-Park received the ball from a maul and juked the last defender to open the scoring. Robbie Robinson converted for the 7-0 lead.
The Eagles replied when captain Todd Clever stole a All Blacks' line-out and, a few phases later, drew a penalty. Full-back Adam Siddall stepped up for a 25-meter kick and sent it through the posts to diminish the deficit by three.
The Maori All Blacks showed their quality, breaking through the gain line well and keeping possession in contact. The speed of the visitors was combated by the Eagles' size and determination, which was rewarded just after the midpoint of the first half.
The Eagles drew another penalty at a ruck after a break by Peter Dahl and Siddall kicked his second penalty goal of the night to make the score 6-7.
Eagles number eight Cameron Dolan went close to scoring after intercepting a pass from full-back Robbie Robinson in broken plan. It took a determined covering tackle from the opposite wing by Kurt Baker to deny the Eagles the try.
The Eagles regained possession within 10 meters again as Nick Wallace showed his mobility with a sneaky run from a ruck at the 22 to put the Eagles within scoring range. Joe Wheeler was sent to the sin bin, giving the Eagles a man-up advantage for the final 10 minutes of the half.
The visitors won their own line-out and cleared it, but Siddall caught the ball and gained ground with a nifty run between defenders. After another phase, he received the ball again and broke another two tackles and set up a scrum for the Eagles. The Maori committed a subsequent penalty and Siddall gave the Eagles a 9-7 lead with a successful kick.
The halftime whistle came too soon for the Eagles, who were wearing down the visitors.
The Eagles relinquished the lead in the 44th minute after Bateman received a pass off of the switch and caught two Eagles on the wrong foot for a try between the sticks. Robinson kicked his second conversion to put the All Blacks back in front at 14-9.
The Maori All Blacks began to chip away at the Eagles with multiple phases not far from the try line, but hard work from players like Hume and Nick Wallace kept them from scoring. The All Blacks ended up committing a penalty with possession and the Eagles cleared.
In the 56th minute, Bateman scored his second of the match. The Eagles cleared a dangerous possession and the tourists decided to keep the ball in hand. They were rewarded by moving the ball wide and setting up Bateman to break through once again. Robinson kicked his conversion just wide to keep the Eagles within two scoring plays.
Following the try, it was the Eagles' turn to knock on the door. Multiple rucks were stuffed by the defenders, but another penalty gave the Eagles options. Clever opted for points and Siddall nailed a tough-angled kick for a 12-19 score line. Robinson kicked the Maori All Blacks' first penalty goal in the 69th minute to extend their lead to 22-12.
In the 73rd minute, the Eagles defence forced a turnover and - after being stuffed several more times on the wrong side of the try line - Dolan finished the play by dotting down to put the Eagles within three at 19-22.
With just four minutes remaining and the threat of their first loss in years a possibility, the All Blacks sealed their win through Luke Katene after an Eagles turnover.
The Eagles were one possession away from snatching victory from the Maori All Blacks, and the players' effort cannot be underscored.
"We gave it our all for 80 minutes and we came up short," said Man of the Match Dolan.
Even the New Zealand Maori All Blacks felt the game could have gone against them.
"It was a really tough win tonight," said Bateman,
"They brought what we expected. They're strong athletes. You look at Todd after the game with his kit off and bloodied; he was really indicative of the way they played. They put everything into it."
The city of Philadelphia impressed both sides with its hospitality and ability to host sporting events, with the Maori All Blacks having witnessed a 76ers game the week leading up to the match.
"[Philadelphia] is just so good at entertaining," New Zealand Maori All Blacks Head Coach Colin Cooper said. "I've been all over the world and the USA's ability to entertain and get people packed in is outstanding. I think the USA really brought it. If we hadn't the spirit that we had, we would have lost the game."
"Coming here in front of a packed crowd with the chant of 'USA' really helped us out," Clever said.
"Any time you get a sold-out in the United States for rugby it's a phenomenal honor," Dolan said.
Pens: Siddal 4
For Maori All Blacks:
Tries: Gibson-Park, Bateman 2, Katene
Cons: Robinson 2
USA: 15 Adam Siddal, 14 Luke Hume, 13 Seamus Kelly, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 Tim Maupin, 10 Toby L'Estrange, 9 Mike Petri, 8 Cameron Dolan, 7 Peter Dahl, 6 Todd Clever (c), 5 Tai Tuisamoa, 4 Scott LaValla, 3 Shawn Pittman, 2 Phil Thiel, 1 Nick Wallace.
Replacements: 16 Zach Fenoglio, 17 Titi Lamositele, 18 Olive Kilifi, 19 Graham Harriman, 20 Kyle Sumsion, 21 Shaun Davies, 22 Zach Pangelinan, 23 Folau Niua
Maori All Blacks: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Kurt Baker, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Tim Bateman (capt), 11 Matt Proctor, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Shane Christie, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Joe Royal, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Nick Barrett, 19 Luke Katene, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Jackson Willison, 23 Zac Guildford.
Venue: PPL Park, Philadelphia
Referee: Chris Assmus (Canada)