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The United States bounced back from a disappointing Day One to win the Bowl Sunday in Tokyo. The Eagles went 4-2 in the effort, claiming some pretty big scalps from Samoa and Australia on Day Two. They decimated Portugal, 39-0, in the quarterfinals, soundly defeated Samoa, 22-5, in the semifinals, and edged Australia, 17-12, in extra time in the final.
Impressively, the deed was done with the team’s best player, Zack Test, largely on the bench. Coach Mike Friday favored a massive pack of Andrew Durutalo, Garrett Bender and Danny Barrett the second day, bringing Test on as a reserve. That starting trio did very well, causing match-ups problems all over the field.
As it played out, the ninth-place finish was enough for the Eagles to surpass Argentina in the overall standings and move into sixth place with two tournaments to go. The win over Australia was the USA’s first since 2009, though ultimately it may end up working against the Eagles in Olympic Qualification, as England moved past Australia and into fourth place after Japan.
American fans should be rooting for the Australians to finish in the top four and claim an early Olympic bid, as it would likely make the repechage qualifier a little more Eagle friendly should the team fall to Canada in the North American qualifier this summer. While the USA is undefeated against Canada this season, including a win Saturday, the improving Canadians scored the upset of the weekend, knocking off New Zealand in the Cup Quarterfinals.
Carlin Isles was named to the Tokyo Dream Team after a seven-try weekend.
BOWL FINAL RECAP
Australia took the opening kickoff and bided its time until finding a crease in the American defense for the opening score, when Pama Fou caught an offload as Isles tried to drag down an Australian ballcarrier.
The Eagles responded with a well-worked, multi-phase try of their own. Danny Barrett made the initial break, and Maka Unufe had a half break on the other side of the field, offloading to Isles, who fought through a couple of defenders for the try. Both conversions were missed, leaving the score tied 5-5.
Isles was caught isolated on the next American possession, and Fou took his ball. The Australians moved it wide off the turnover, and an offload and a pass later, they were in. Converted, the score put Australia up 12-5 with about a minute to play in the half. That was enough time for Folau Niua to be binned for cynical play, so the USA trailed seven points and one man at the break.
The USA scored during the power play, with a missed tackle on Unufe sparking the move. He darted past the defensive line after the whiffed tackle and was brought down by the sweeper and another Aussie in pursuit from behind, offloading to a sprinting Barrett for the score. The conversion was dead on, leveling the table at 12-12 with about five minutes to play.
Australia appeared to be in at the corner, but some desperate effort by Bender saw the ballcarrier brought down inches from the line. The Minnesotan got to his feet and contested at the ruck, too, kicking the ball to touch. Australia went quick in the lineout and Ed Jenkins was destined to score, but an unforced knock on got the Eagles out of trouble.
With both benches cleared and tired bodies mixing with fresh legs, the USA nearly scored in the final seconds. Test had gone for the line and came up five meters short, and Hughes knocked on the pick up at the ruck. Had he plucked the ball cleanly, the USA would have won in regulation, but overtime called.
The USA took possession straight off and didn’t relinquish it. Perry Baker took the restart, and a couple of phases and trips to each touch line later, he slid in for the winning try.
BOWL SEMIFINAL RECAP
The USA extracted some revenge in the semifinal, beating Samoa. Manu Samoa ended the Eagles’ Cup aspirations a week earlier in the Hong Kong Cup Quarterfinals.
The first half was mostly a sparring match of mistakes. Samoa and the USA traded turnovers, offensive probes and penalties for the first five minutes, with Samoa winning the territory battle. The mistake that led to the first score for the USA was Niua pump faking on a lineout throw. Samoa scored shortly after that infraction.
Madison Hughes scored not long after to nullify that try. He kicked ahead for Isles, who couldn’t scoop it up, so he furthered the ball with his leg, and then Hughes picked it up and raced in. Hughes’ conversion was made, whereas Samoa’s wasn’t, giving the Eagles the lead.
Isles would get his try right on halftime. He had the ball with Bender outside him, and he deferred to the big man to take contact. Niua smashed the ruck, and Isles swiftly picked up and sprinted up the blind side for a try, giving the Eagles a 12-5 advantage going into the break.
The play of the game may have been a defensive effort for Isles, who bundled up a would-be scorer as he slid into pay dirt. Isles rolled him over and into touch before the ball could be grounded, preventing a score.
Samoan indiscipline helped the Eagles seal the win with two minutes to go. A flurry of penalties saw the USA advance the ball down the field, and after a yellow card right on the doorstep, Isles was found with some space for another try. Up 17-5 with time dwindling, the Eagles had the game well in hand. In case they didn’t, though, Barrett sniped the restart and cruised into the try zone for another score.
BOWL QUARTERFINAL RECAP
In the Bowl Quarterfinal, the Eagles poured seven tries on Portugal, with Folau Niua having a good game in his first back after serving a six game suspension. He would score the opening try with a super individual effort, dummying one defender, slicing through the line and outpacing the Portuguese for the remaining 40 meters or so.
Niua made the break that led to the second score, too, dummying similarly. This time, it was Garrett Bender bullying his way over to extend the lead to 12-0. Seconds after the restart, Bender flung a pass out to Danny Barrett, who made a classic bump on a would-be tackler before sliding over. Hughes tacked on one more after Portugal was shown a yellow card, putting the USA 24 points clear at halftime.
Unufe stretched the lead off a Portuguese penalty early in the second half, scoring relatively easily after Nate Augspurger toed the ball in play. Augspurger made a brilliant play to set up the next score. First he fought through what looked like a sure tackle, and then he slipped a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Andrew Durutalo for the try.
The blowout allowed the opportunity for another sub, Matai Leuta, to shine as well. The big man skied to take the kickoff, chucked off a defender and stretched his legs across the line.