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Last Updated: Monday, 27 October, 2003, 10:16 GMT
USA defeat Japan in thriller
Japan 26-39 USA

Phillip Eloff scores for the USA
Japan 26
Tries: Kurihara, Ohata
Cons: Kurihara (2)
Pens: Kurihara (4)
USA 39
Tries: Hercus, Eloff, Schubert, Van Zyl, Khasigian
Cons: Hercus (4)
Pens: Hercus (2)

The USA have won their first World Cup match in 16 years with a hard-fought victory over Japan.

Five tries helped the Eagles end a record of 10 consecutive World Cup defeats, but it was Mike Hercus who was the real hero.

The fly-half orchestrated their efforts and his late conversion to seal the win exorcised memories of the one he had missed against Fiji.

Japan gave their all after conceding 14 early points, but were unable to overhaul the deficit.

They edged to within one point early in the second half, a margin that still split the teams going into the final 10 minutes.

But in a frantic finale Riaan van Zyl's try finally gave the Eagles some breathing space before Hercus slotted the conversion to take them eight points clear and his tally to 19.

Kris Khasigian crossed in the corner in the last minute to add a gloss to the score that did not fairly reflect Japan's efforts in an entertaining match.

The USA's last World Cup victory was also against Japan, a 21-18 win in May 1987.

It feels great to get that win after so many years
USA captain Dave Hodges
This contest was equally close despite the Eagles taking full advantage of a slow start by the Japanese in the opening exchanges.

Within eight minutes the USA were 14 points to the good and looked set for an easy evening.

Clean-cut Hercus, who has played in the Rob Andrew-mould of a number 10 in his country's previous matches, opened the scoring with a try.

A show of the ball gave him the glimpse of a gap which he accelerated through with the aplomb of the best running fly-halves in the tournament.

Phillip Eloff joined him in scoring under the posts moments later with a break, from halfway on the left flank, beyond poor Japanese tackling.

The match was the toughest we've played
Japan coach Shogo Mukai
The Japanese looked jaded, this their third game in 10 days, but with their first real attack of the match they scored through Toru Kurihara.

The wing benefited from George Konia's straightening of a drifting backline, to score in the corner.

Kurihara's accuracy with the boot put pressure on the Americans and the teams played out a tit-for-tat match from thereon in.

Penalty matched penalty with Kurihara eating into the lead, which stood at 10 points at the break, and in the second half tries were exchanged.

Hercus slipped a tackle and then a pass to feed Kort Schubert for a simple score and at the other end Daisuke Ohata ran in with blistering pace on the left-wing for his 42nd international try after a turnover.

And Ohata made an equally telling contribution with a try-saving tackle on Van Zyl.

However when the American crossed with time running out, Japan's fate was sealed, Khasigian adding a fifth try in the last-minute.

Japan leave the tournament without a win to their name, ironically this being their 10th consecutive World Cup defeat, but they have won plenty of plaudits with whole-hearted displays.

Japan: T Matsuda; D Ohata, G Konia, Y Motoki, T Kurihara; A Miller, Y Sonoda; S Hasegawa, M Amino, M Toyoyama; A Parker, H Kiso; N Okubo, T Miuchi (capt), T Ito.
Replacements: M Yamamoto, M Sakata, K Kubo, Y Saito, T Tsuji, H Namba, H Onozawa.

USA: P Emerick; D Fee, P Eloff, S Sika, R van Zyl; M Hercus, K Dalzell; M MacDonald, K Khasigian, D Dorsey; G Klerck, L Gross; K Schubert, D Hodges, D Lyle.
Replacements: M Wyatt, J Waasdorp, J Gouws, O Fifita, K Kjar, J Keyter, J Buchholz.

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