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Martin Seras Lima photo

Pool play came to a crashing close for the USA with a 24-15 loss to South Africa in Tokyo Saturday. The Eagles led at halftime, but a stretch of lost kickoffs saw that gap erased and more than reversed by the Blitzbokke just after intermission. As a result, the Eagles will be relegated to the Bowl Rounds for the first time since Dubai back in December.  

Danny Barrett nearly scored in the 18th second, ripping the opening kickoff away and charging into the try zone. He lost the ball in the try zone, though, resulting in a knock-on. On the next possession, Carlin Isles did manage to dot down, putting the USA on top 5-0. The Eagles did well to hold onto the ball through several phases, and Isles caught the ball flat footed at midfield, but with enough space to turn the jets on and go.

South Africa quickly responded. Werner Kok bursted the seams of the defense with a big run up the middle, then Kwagga Smith flirted with one perimeter, before the Blitzbokke reversed field quickly to find Kyle Brown with some space on the other touch line.

Madison Hughes put the Bliztbokke under pressure with a booming kick, and Isles chased and made a tackle after conceding little ground on the counter. The USA’s stifling defense forced the South Africans into an obstruction penalty, and two bruising runs from Garrett Bender and Andrew Durutalo saw the latter stretch across the try line and put the USA up 10-5 going into halftime.

The opening restart of the first half was a deep kick, and Garrett Bender bobbled the ball, resulting in an attacking scrum for South Africa. Cecil Afrika knifed through for a try right off the jump. South Africa won the restart, and Werner Kok attacked before the American defense was set. On the next restart, Zack Test had the ball in his hands, and Brown slapped it out, back to a teammate, and the Blitzbokke were in again.

In a matter of less than a minute of ball-in-play time, with zero rucks separating them, South Africa scored three consecutive tries to erase a good first half from the Eagles and put a chokehold on the game.

The Blitzbokke did lose a man to the bin, and Danny Barrett scored to cut the lead, but it was in the corner. The conversion kick was missed, leaving the Eagles down two scores with not enough time to come back. In the end, that unfortunate string of restarts to start the half was too much to overcome.