Team GB rugby through to gold medal match

By Danny Caro in Netanya, July 19, 2009
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GB Captain Aaron Liffchak

GB Captain Aaron Liffchak

Open Rugby Semi-Final: Team GB 16 USA 3

A third consecutive 11-point haul from fly half Sam Katz together with a stellar defensive display steered Team GB into the gold medal match after they held off a determined effort from a strong USA team at the Wingate Institute on Sunday night.

Katz, 18, made it 33 points for the competition after holding his nerve in a pressure-cooker atmosphere.

Having beaten South Africa and Australia in the group phase, GB looked well prepared for the challenge of a big American pack.

Both sides were looking to run the ball early on and GB received a boost when America had a man sent to the sin bin.

Katz opened the scoring with an expertly taken penalty, putting the Whites 3-0 to the good after 15 minutes.

Things got even better five minutes later as Ben Chamberlain crashed the ball over the line with a try that rewarded the ball retention of the pack. Katz converted to open up a 10-0 advantage.

America did not let their heads drop with No. 11 Zachary Test, who plays for the national team’s sevens, looking to run the ball at every opportunity. Jared Braun was another quality customer. A national Under 20 player, he will play for Berkley College next year, the No. 1 rugby school for college rugby in the USA.

Saul Zulman fell short from another penalty and the Americans tried to punish GB but heroic defending kept them out. However, they moved to within seven points with their only points coming via a penalty.

Test missed a penalty on the stroke of half time and GB were happy to take a 10-3 advantage in with them at the break. They had produced a super-human effort and knew that another strong 40 minutes would boost their chances of making the final.

Katz gave GB the perfect tonic at the start of the second half with his drop-kick splitting the posts. But like Zulman, his next penalty fell short of the mark.

As US tempers began to fray, the No. 17 was fortunate not to be sin-binned after he threw his head into the face of GB skipper Aaron Liffchak.

The US finished strongly but GB held firm and defended like tigers, putting life and limb on the line.

Katz completed a good night’s work with another penalty to set GB up for a final on Wednesday night.

“It was our most controlled performance yet,” beamed
GB head coach Simon Culley. “We knew America were a really good team with a good full-back.

“We showed incredible power and direction as they were an immense team. The 7 was exceptional and caused us all sorts of problems.

“I’m proud of the squad including the two boys I had to leave out today. It was a huge defensive performance. We decided to chop them low and concentrated on making the turnovers. The boys have so much heart.

GB captain Aaron Liffchak said: “I’m so proud I have tears in my eyes. We’ve exorcised some demons from four years ago when we lost to the USA in the semis.

“We have great spirit and have bonded. I’ve never played with such an amazing team in my life.

“Jewish rugby can only go up and if an all-Jewish team was set up, I would love to play for them regularly.”

Looking ahead to the final, against the winner of the other semi between Israel and Australia, Liffchak said: “We’ll face what we face but the pressure if off us.

“The youngest players are probably standing up the most with people starting to play men’s rugby for the first time.”

Sam Katz said: “The team deserves everything from today’s performance. We got the penalties we needed in their half but would not have got as much possession without a heroic defensive display as the USA were massive.”

Last updated: 1:39pm, July 20 2009