In an international rugby match geared more for the growth of the sport in the U.S. than for the highly expected result, New Zealand, the defending World Cup champions, thumped the U.S., 74-6, before a packed Soldier Field in Chicago on a chilly Saturday afternoon.
More than 61,500 fans watched the top-ranked All Blacks outclass the 18th-ranked Eagles with 12 tries, and behind strong performances from Dan Carter, Sonny Bill Williams, and Julian Savea. New Zealand, who boast perhaps their best squad ever, jumpstarted their attack after leading the U.S. 12-6, by scoring 62 unanswered points. The score was 43-6 at halftime.
It was a record score for the All Blacks against the U.S., and their largest margin of victory since the 2011 World Cup when New Zealand embarrassed Japan, 83-7. As lopsided as Saturday’s score was, it could have been worse. Head coach Steve Hansen rested some top players, including captain Richie McCaw. At times, it seemed as though the All Blacks treated the match as a way to fix holes in their attack.
“I think we got a bit loose there. We still have a few things to work on,” said Williams in a television interview after the game.
New Zealand’s victory was not only comprehensive, but it was quick. At one point, the All Blacks scored 12 points in about 90 seconds.
“If you give them a little room, or you make a mistake, they make you pay,” said captain Todd Clever.
U.S. head coach Mike Tolkin entered the match with an interest in putting forth a full effort against the most prolific opponent in the world.
“I’m going to be happy if we walk off the field having left our blood and guts and given everything we have, and gotten the respect of the All Blacks and the international rugby community, as well as or fans,” Tolkin said in a phone interview on Oct. 27.
After 80 minutes, much of the crowd was on their feet, providing both squads an ovation for a hard-fought match.
Overall, it was a momentous game for American rugby. There has never been a bigger U.S. crowd to watch a rugby match, perhaps offering hope that the sport can become more visible in the country. NBC broadcasted the match that USA Rugby chairman Bob Latham described as "monumental."
Clever believes the match was a step in the right direction with the World Cup next year in England, and is optimistic about the growth of U.S. Rugby.
“We have a fanbase, and we’re going to grow,” said Clever. “We need more time together. We will play better rugby when we have more time together.”