The USA and Canada will both take narrow leads into the second legs of their Rugby World Cup 2023 qualifiers following thrilling victories on Saturday.
Bidding to qualify directly to RWC 2023 as Americas 1, the USA hosted Uruguay in Glendale for the first match in a home-and-away series and came out on top, 19-16.
However, perhaps crucially, Uruguay scored 13 unanswered points in the final 20 minutes to give themselves hope heading into next Saturday’s second leg at Estadio Charrúa.
Canada, who lost the Rugby Americas North (RAN) 1 play-off to the USA last month, hosted Chile at Starlight Stadium, meanwhile, and needed a late Rob Povey penalty to secure a 22-21 win.
USA 19-16 Uruguay
The USA had lost the first leg of their RAN 1 play-off against Canada in September, and went behind at Infinity Park to an early Felipe Berchesi penalty.
However, the hosts rallied and went in front for the first time midway through the first half as number eight Cam Dolan scored and Will Magie added the conversion.
That is how the score remained until the stroke of half-time when Christian Dyer used both power and pace to beat three Uruguayan defenders and score in the right corner. Magie again added the extras to give the hosts a 14-3 lead at the break.
It seemed as though the second half would play out to a similar pattern as the first when the men’s Eagles notched their third try with more than half an hour to play.
Following a period of USA pressure, Dolan and Marcel Brache combined to release Mika Kruse, who finished from close range.
The subsequent conversion was missed, however, and thereafter Berchesi began to chip into the USA’s lead with a pair of penalties.
With less than three minutes remaining, Uruguay gave themselves real hope ahead of next Saturday’s second leg in Montevideo as replacement hooker Guillermo Pujadas went over.
Berchesi held his nerve to convert from out wide and although it was not enough to alter the first-leg result, it leaves the tie delicately poised at 19-16 ahead of the return fixture at Estadio Charrúa.
“I'm just really proud of the guys' effort that we put in today," USA captain Bryce Campbell said.
"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.”
Canada 22-21 Chile
Chile took an early 6-0 lead in Langford as full-back Santiago Videla converted two penalties.
The hosts hit back with a try from second-row Corey Thomas, but after the TMO had checked the grounding, Peter Nelson missed the conversion to leave his side still a point adrift.
Videla stepped up as the first half came to an end to add his third penalty and give the South Americans a 9-5 lead at the break.
Canada began the second half strongly, and took the lead for the first time in the match when scrum-half Ross Braude crossed the whitewash.
Braude then finished an incisive counter-attack from the hosts to grab his second try of the evening and help give his side a 19-9 advantage.
Chile hit back soon after when Clemente Saavedra went over, and regained the lead in the 67th minute when Videla converted the second-row’s second try of the match.
Canada pushed for the score that would put them back in front but found themselves without the ball as the clock ticked down.
However, Chile were unable to see out the match as a late infringement gave the hosts a penalty in front of the posts, and replacement fly-half Povey duly knocked it over.
“It's simple for us now,” Canada coach Kingsley Jones said. "We have to go to Chile and win an away test match.
“Credit to them, their defence was solid.”