The United States took a vital step towards qualifying for the 2023 Rugby World Cup after holding off a Uruguayan comeback attempt to win 19-16 in the opening portion of their play-off fixture.
The North Americans led 19-3 with only 20 minutes remaining at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colorado, but Los Teros succeeded in making the clash competitive once more thanks to their late surge.
A first-leg lead could still prove crucial in the race to secure qualification as Americas 1, with a place in France on the line for whomever claims the superior points difference over both legs.
First-half tries from winger Christian Dyer and No. 8 Cam Dolan helped put the Eagles in a commanding lead after Uruguay fly-half Felipe Berchesi converted the first points in Colorado.
Utah Warriors winger Mika Kruse extended that cushion to 16 points with a dart from the left wing on 50 minutes, but a scoreless final half-hour from the hosts gave the opposition a route back.
Berchesi remained loyal to the tee and slotted two more penalties before adding the extras once replacement hooker Guillermo Pujadas bundled his way over in the 78th minute.
Head coach Esteban Meneses will feel all the more confident of Uruguay's chances following that second-half recovery, though they must still overturn the result at home to qualify.
The United States will advance to the 2023 Rugby World Cup provided they win, draw, or lose by fewer than three points next weekend.
Do you think the United States will finish the job in Uruguay to qualify for RWC 2023? Let us know in the comments section.
“I'm just really proud of the guys' effort that we put in today," said Eagles captain Bryce Campbell following the win.
"We came out ready to play and we stuck it to 'em, especially in the first half.
“A bit of our discipline let us down in the second half letting them into it, but, at the end of the day a win's a win and we'll go down to Uruguay and get another one.”
The two nations collide once more at Estadio Charrua in Montevideo on Saturday (October 9), when fans will discover who is the 14th team to reclaim their place at the World cup table.
That fixture won't be the last opportunity either team will have to make the tournament, however, with the loser advancing to a final play-off that will decide the Americas 2 qualifier.
Canada converted a penalty in the dying moments of their home game against Chile on Saturday, edging in front 22-21 at the final whistle to record a narrow first-leg triumph of their own.
The Canucks will travel to Valparaiso in Chile next Saturday in an attempt to finish the job, and the victor of that two-legged affair will face either the U.S. or Uruguay in a last-ditch shootout to qualify for France.
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