Rugby World Cup 2010 did not go as the USA had planned it would when they arrived in England but a fifth-place play-off against old rivals Canada gave the squad a goal to focus on.
As World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Phaidra Knight admitted this week “most teams that go into the World Cup want to win a World Cup”.
Defeat to Ireland in the pool stage had put paid to those hopes but the USA had quickly taken their revenge, beating the Irish 40-3 in their fifth-place semi-final.
That victory set up the match against their North American rivals and ensured that when the Americans cycled to Surrey Sports Park on 5 September, 2010 they did so with purpose.
“Canada is always a huge rival for us,” Knight told World Rugby. “They're our neighbours and one of our fiercest opponents.
“And so we just recollected after each match, we went back to the drawing board, sort of fixed the things that we felt like we needed to work at and came back out, you know, as fresh as we could.”
One more task to attend to
According to Knight, the USA were also motivated by a desire to leave England on a high, following a tournament that was “by far at that point the best in terms of the facilities”.
“We knew that it was the end of a really incredible moment,” she added.
“We were bruised, we were beat up but, you know, there's that feeling of accomplishment. We're at the end of the road. We've got one more task to attend to.”
However, things did not initially go the USA’s way on the pitch. Anna Schnell gave Canada an early lead from the kicking tee and then converted Heather Moyse’s seventh-minute try.
The USA answered with two Christy Ringgenberg penalties and an unconverted score from captain Ashley English to edge into an 11-10 lead.
But Canada would head into half-time 17-11 in front as Schnell again provided the extras after second-row Megan Gibbs had breached the American line.
USA forwards coach Alex Williams led the inquest at the interval and urged the players to “just focus and go back to our basics”.
“We were making so many errors,” Knight added.
“We knew what we were capable of. Again, we were hungry coming off a couple of losses and, yeah, we just knew who we were, we knew what our systems were and we knew that we weren't sticking to our systems and we weren't executing them well.
“So we went back to the things that got us there. We knew that we would find some success.”
‘I was fired up’
With Williams’ words of advice ringing in their ears, the USA put immediate pressure on the Canadian line that resulted in a 42nd-minute Lynelle Kugler try. Ringgenberg’s conversion meant that when Knight replaced Beckett Royce her side were defending a slender 18-17 lead.
“I was fired up. I always hated coming off the bench,” Knight admitted.
“I was just ready to play, you know, I always want to play. So, I was feeling pretty happy going into the match, I think I high-fived about four players.”
Knight was soon high-fiving players in celebration as Vanesha McGee crossed within two minutes of her introduction to give the USA a 23-17 advantage.
It meant that Canada needed to score seven points in the remaining 32 minutes to wrestle the match away from their great rivals, something that — despite a second Schnell penalty — proved beyond them.
“You're just levitating on fumes and you're just going off of that mental toughness,” Knight said of the effort it took to repel Canada in the second half.
“Physically, the body's exhausted but you've got the will, and I think will-power in the end is really all that matters.”
Victory gave the USA fifth place and ensured that Knight and her team-mates returned home with something to cherish — bragging rights.
“It was huge. It was the biggest win we'd had,” Knight said. “Because it was the last match, it was Canada, and I love Canada — it’s that whole love-hate relationship when it comes to being on the pitch. But it was everything.”