But then the time for kidding around ran out. Haden looked across San Diego Stadium at Swords and exclaimed, somewhat in amazement, "I'm marking a fellow two inches taller than me."
The All Blacks won the toss, kicked off to get the ball downfield and quickly had the Eagles on the defensive. Although play moved up, down and across the pitch—actually, San Diego Stadium, the home of the Chargers and the Padres—for quite a while it was confined to Eagle territory. The American backs were defending surprisingly well, but that was all they were doing, and they were getting tired and clumsy in the process. Eight minutes into the game a dairy farmer by the name of Brett Codlin kicked a penalty goal, and the score was 3-0 for the All Blacks.
In the scrums the All Blacks were pushing the Eagles off the ball; Cornbill had been right about that first push on the Gutbuster. And when the Eagles mounted offensive rushes, they kept turning the ball over. Once Walton, a wing, broke away, but the All Black backs were stretched out and waiting; there is no blocking in rugby, so Walton's teammates could do nothing to protect him.
The All Blacks continued to pound on and led 21-0 at halftime. Meanwhile, the spectators were still filing in, prompting one San Diegan to say, "People are always arriving late in this town, to everything. I've seen lines outside live theater an hour after curtain time." And the new arrivals were being shunted to the seats on the side of the field opposite the four TV cameras. Tony Scott, who was working the broadcast for ESPN, had said, "This game will make or break televised rugby in this country." But he did not say which was more important, a good showing by the Eagles or a stadium that seemed packed. In any event, the 14,000 fans who filled the sections of the stands that the TV viewers would see comprised the largest crowd ever to see a rugby game in the U.S.
Early in the second half the Eagles scored a victory of sorts; an All Blacks' try put them ahead 25-0, but Codlin missed the conversion, albeit from a difficult angle. Minutes later Codlin and his mates were back on the beam, though, and the New Zealanders led 31-0. Then a wondrous thing happened. A pediatrician from Memphis named Dick Cooke made a beautiful 40-yard penalty kick, and the Eagles were on the board with three points. Few of the fans on hand knew or would've cared that Cooke had been born in Ireland, or that he had started playing rugby at the decidedly un-American age of 12.
With 10 minutes remaining in the game, Cooke booted another three-pointer. But the two kicks were the only damage the Eagles could inflict, and sandwiched between them had been three more All Black tries—a third by Woodman and a second by Osborne—and two more conversions. By Codlin, of course. After Codlin swung his mighty foot for the last time, scoring his 21st point, on six conversions and three penalty kicks, the final score was All Blacks 53, Eagles 6, one point closer than the 51-3 of 67 years ago. At that rate the U.S. can expect a tie game in the year 5129.
After the postgame banquet a chastened Watkins was telling friends, "My expectations were higher for tonight, but knowing who the All Blacks are and seeing the teamwork and precision of their play, I'm not disappointed. They've got tremendous discipline. We need a little of that."
And Walton was feeling just fine. He had played against the All Blacks in San Diego, in front of his family—his 9-year-old son, Lin Jr., had been the ball boy for the Eagles—and friends, as a member of the Eagles. And he had played well. Remember, he had never said anything about winning.