NEW PLYMOUTH, New Zealand (Reuters) - Ireland labored to an error-strewn 22-10 victory over an emotional and fiercely committed United States in their rugby World Cup opener at a cold and wet Stadium Taranaki on Sunday.
Both teams wore black armbands and observed a period of silence as cheers of “USA, USA” rang out before the game on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington in which nearly 3,000 people died.
Despite enjoying total dominance up front throughout the Pool C clash, handling errors, slips on the wet field, misplaced passes and poor execution meant Ireland ran in only three tries and missed out on the crucial four-try bonus point.
Irish flyhalf Jonathan Sexton had a night to forget as he made just two from six kicks as Ireland ended a four-match losing streak.
“There were aspects that were disappointing for sure but most important was we broke our losing sequence,” captain Brian O‘Driscoll told reporters.
“But if we are relying on bonus points to get through we are in trouble for sure.”
O‘Driscoll and his team have just six days to improve on their display as they face a tough test on Saturday against Tri-Nations champions Australia, who ran out 32-6 winners over Italy earlier.
The Americans, however, will be delighted with their efforts, tackling everything that moved in a green shirt as they continued the trend of impressive performances by the tier two nations in the opening matches of the World Cup.
Ireland had started brightly on a chilly Sunday evening, tearing into the big American pack and shoving them backwards off their first scrum and drawing a penalty, only for Sexton to push his straight-forward kick wide in the fourth minute.
Sexton then missed a simpler chance five minutes later into the stiff breeze as Ireland began racking up handling errors in the difficult cold and wet conditions.
He finally kicked over a penalty in the 17th minute in front of the posts after the Americans, who were struggling to gain possession because of their struggles up front, were penalized for hands in the ruck.
Another big Irish scrum on the stroke of halftime resulted in the opening try when the Americans were pushed off their own put-in inside their 22 an Bowe cut a nice line back inside to score under the posts which Sexton converted.
However, the flyhalf’s kicking woes returned at the start of the second half when he missed two more kicks from identical positions before being replaced by Ronan O‘Gara shortly after.
The Americans took heart from Irish errors and winger James Paterson kicked over a penalty to cut the deficit to seven in the 54th minute.
The score seemed to spark the Irish into life and hooker Rory Best waited his time before breaking off the back of another successful rolling maul to crash over in the corner for Ireland’s second try minutes later.
O‘Gara matched Sexton’s kicking with a woeful slice wide on the conversion.
The work of the forwards though was beginning to tell and Bowe ran in his second on the hour mark after a quick exchange of passes with O‘Driscoll.
Another big rolling maul threatened to bring a fourth try and precious bonus point in the final minutes but the Americans held firm and enjoyed the final say, and biggest cheer, when center Paul Emerick intercepted a looping pass to race clear under the posts to score.
“We were under a lot of pressure and I‘m very proud of the guys,” said the ponytailed American captain Todd Clever.
“In the grand scheme of things this is just a game and we’re talking about thousands of lives, we were glad to have our chance to pay our respects,” added in reference to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Reporting by Patrick Johnston. Editing by Alastair Himmer