For 45 minutes the United States looked likely to record the first upset of the World Cup before succumbing to Fiji 19–18 in an enthralling match at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium.
A try in the last minute by blindside flanker Kort Schubert gave Mike Hercus the chance to kick the winning goal but his effort from wide on the left went agonisingly wide.
It was a dramatic and fitting end to a superb match.
When South Africa–born Riaan van Zyl dived over for the Americans just four minutes after half–time and Hercus converted, they were 13–3 up and Fiji looked ragged.
The Eagles were hugely impressive in the first half, with disciplined and effective forward play pushing the Fijians back and some excellent sliding, scrambling defence neutralising the many, inevitable line breaks by the Pacific Islanders.
And van Zyl's try, courtesy of a perceptive cross–field kick from Hercus, meant an upset was on the cards.
That was despite some breathtaking counter–attacking rugby from Fiji, with Vilimoni Delesau to the fore in his role as a very able stand–in for the suspended Rupeni Caucau.
The opening score came when Hercus put the USA 3–0 up after six minutes with a penalty and, when Fiji killed the ball in the 24th minute, he banged over a second to make it 6–0.
Just before the half–hour mark a brilliant break by Delesau – his fourth by that stage – nearly brought the opening try but the American cover defence did its job.
Fly–half Nicky Little kicked a penalty in the 32nd minute for Fiji, the Saracens fly–half's successful effort making it 6–3.
With half–time looming, Fiji had three good chances to score but the scrambling, determined Americans thwarted all of them.
Fiji coach Mac McCallion clearly had some strong words for his player about their work at the ruck and, once the shock of van Zyl's try had abated, it soon showed as the men in white lifted their game.
When the USA infringed at a ruck, Little converted well to make it 13–6.
A long period of open rugby 10 minutes into the second half played into Fijian hands as Delesau led the break and fed Marika Vunibaka. The Canterbury winger handed the ball off to hooker Greg Smith, who in turn provided the final pass for Api Naevo to go over under the posts.
Little converted to tie the scores up at 13–13 and McCallion also sent on two forward replacements to turn the screw on the American forwards. It brought quick reward.
In the 57th minute Little put his team in the lead for the first time, knocking over a penalty after American skipper Dave Hodges killed the ball.
Seven minutes on and a quick lineout saw Vunibaka race away until a shuddering tackle from Dan Dorsey smashed him to the ground, but a penalty for hands in the ruck saw Little extend Fiji's lead to 19–13.
The game thereafter lost some of its structure, with both sides seeking a try – Fiji to kill the game and the USA to snatch back the lead.
In the end it was Schubert's try and the missed conversion by Hercus which provided the thrilling finish to a wonderful match.
Fiji: Try: Naevo. Conversion: Little. Penalties: Little 4. USA: Tries: Van Zyl, Schubert. Conversion: Hercus. Penalties: Hercus 2.
FIJI: A Uluinayau; M Vunibaka, A Tuilevu, S Rabeni, V Delasau; N Little, M Rauluni; G Smith, N Seru (S Koyamaibole, 57), J Veitayaki, I Rawaqa, A Naevo (V Maimuri, 67), A Mocelutu (R Nyholt, 56), K Sewabu, A Doviverata (capt).
USA: P Emerick; D Fee (J Buchholz, 56), P Eloff (S Sika, 75), K Cross, R Van Zyl; M Hercus, K Dalzell; M MacDonald, K Khasigian, D Dorsey, A Parker, L Gross, K Schubert, D Hodges (capt), D Lyle.
Referee: J Jutge (France).Reuse content