USA Women heaved a sigh of relief as a injury-time conversion drifted wide to hold on for a 11-10 victory over Canada at Lake Parker Park on Saturday to split the Atlantic Cup series with their neighbours.
Canada had won the first encounter 18-8 four days earlier with a gritty second half display, but both sides had made numerous changes to their starting line up as they continue to build to Women's Rugby World Cup 2010 in August.
The home side had a more confident air about them as they took to the field in Lakeland, Florida, but neither the Women's Eagles or their visitors could find a way through and the first half ended without a point being scored.
Within five minutes of the restart, however, USA opened the scoring when fly half Stephanie Bruce kicked a penalty after the Canadians were penalised for not releasing.
The lead only lasted a matter of minutes as Ashley Patzer, one of only four Canadians to start both tests, found space and touched down in the corner. The conversion was missed, allowing USA to regain the lead with another Bruce penalty.
Canada's cause was not helped when Jennifer Kish became the second visiting player to be sin-binned - following on from Marlene Donaldson in the first half - just past the hour mark.
Unlike in the first half, USA made their advantage count as number 8 Blair Groefsema picked up the ball from the base of the scrum and it was worked out the Vanesha McGee, the wing charging down the touchline and breaking the tackle to put her side 11-5 ahead with little more than 10 minutes to play.
Canada, though, had scored 18 unanswered points in the first match to snatch victory and came within a whisker of doing so again after Mandy Marchak touched down deep in injury time. The conversion though drifted wide.
"I was obviously happy with the outcome of the match," admitted USA coach Kathy Flores. "However, we still need to work on our fundamental skills and retaining the ball in contact.
"Overall the team showed more confidence today, a switch triggered inside them where they were ready to rise to the challenge of defeating Canada.
"I think that the difference between the two matches is that our forwards really went after it at the point of contact, which is what we were lacking in the first match. Unfortunately, I think we need a little bit of work in our backline because we're tending to run away from the ball instead of running through it."
Desire to work hard
Canadian try scorer Patzer was also able to draw positives from the defeat, particularly the way they finished, but knows there is still plenty to work on before they travel to England for the Women's Rugby World Cup from 20 August to 5 September.
"We made a couple of crucial mistakes, we had two yellow cards so were a player short for 20 minutes and that's really difficult to come back from, but we still played really hard.. We bent, but only broke once when they scored a try," said the full back.
"When the sin bins came back in, we just started rolling with it. It doesn't just come from one player, it's not just from the captain, it's from the whole team. It's from the whole 22 who dress and we did well considering.
"That last minute of play was a huge positive. We punched it out. We should have been playing like that the whole game, but we know we can play like that and we're fit enough to play like that, but we just need to find that deep desire to work that hard for the entire game.
"All the mistakes we were making got us down, heads were going down at different times. We just need to come together before the last moment of the game. I guess we just need to work harder.
"Today's loss, it happened. We need to learn from it, get past it, move on and focus on the next step."
USA: 1. Jamie Burke 2. Lisa Butts 3. Lara Vivolo 4. Stacey Bridges 5. Jillion Potter 6. Kristin Zdanczewicz 7. Beckett Royce 8. Blair Groefsema 9. Claudia Braymer 10. Stephanie Bruce 11. Victoria Folayan 12. Emilie Bydwell 13. Lynelle Kugler 14. Vanesha McGee 15. Ashley English (Captain).
Replacements: 16. Farrah Douglas 17. Kittery Wagner 18. Sharon Blaney 19. Mel Denham 20. Kim Magrini 21. Melissa Kanuk 22. Christy Ringgenberg.
Try: Vanesha McGee
Penalties: Stephanie Bruce (2)
CANADA: 1. Leslie Cripps (Captain) 2. Kim Donaldson 3. Marlene Donaldson 4. Danielle Rowlands 5. Araba Chintoh, 6. Heather Jaques, 7. Shannon Kane 8. Jen Kish 9. Julia Sugawara 10. Brooke Hilditch 11. Brittany Waters 12. Sarah Ulmer 13. Mandy Marchak 14. Andrea Burk 15. Ashley Patzer.
Replacements: 16. Kristy Sargent 17. Leslie McKenzie 18. Paige Burdett-Knauff 19. Barbara Mervin 20. Laura Stoughton 21. Anna Schnell 22. Darcy Patterson.
Tries: Ashley Patzer, Mandy Marchak
U20 success for Canada
There was better news for Canada with their Under 20 team edging another tight affair with their USA counterparts 13-12 in the curtain raiser at Lake Parker Park, scoring two second half tries to seal the comeback victory.
Tia Croteau had given the Canadians the early lead, but a strong finish to the half saw BrieAnna Barto and Candace Barley touch down to send the USA in with a 12-3 advantage at the break.
Misha Maric scored Canada's first try early in the second half and only spirited defence kept the visitors at bay as they piled the pressure on USA. However it was only five minutes from time when Katie McNally's try proved the match winner.
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