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Ian Muir photo

Team USA went on a 21-point run to get clear of Samoa en route to a 26-12 win in the pool opener Friday at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. Three cards to Samoa helped in the matter.

The win gives the Eagles some cushion in the group, with Australia coming up later Friday and Spain on Saturday. The Americans likely just need to bag one win from those two to punch their ticket to the quarterfinals.

Folau Niua gave Danny Barrett every chance to win the opening kickoff, but Barrett let it bounce and couldn’t haul it in. He more than made up for the mishandle by helping win the ensuing lineout, and when the ball swung back to his side, he made a one-handed catch off a Ben Pinkelman pass and ran in for the first try of the contest.

Niua’s conversion attempt was no good, but his next restart caught the strong wind and rode it straight into touch, giving Samoa an attacking free kick at midfield. The set piece play was successful, leaving Niua diving while missing a tackle. Samoa was off to the races. The try was scored in the center, so Samoa nailed the easy kick and took a 7-5 lead.

The Eagles went back on attack quickly. Niua made some guys miss with fancy footwork, opening a hole for Matai Leuta to streak through, but he dropped the sure try. There was a penalty advantage on, though, possibly for a late tackle of Pinkelman. Off the penalty, Martin Iosefo crossed the whitewash, regaining the lead for the home team.

The Eagles won the restart and kept the pressure on. The pressure would be rewarded by Barrett’s second try, when he caught the ball on the wing, fended one Samoan and evaded another en route to pay dirt. Niua slotted the latter two conversions – 19-7 at halftime.

Samoa was pinged for another dangerous tackle at the onset of the second half, this time a high challenge around Barrett’s neck. The Eagles couldn’t convert during the power play, but after a flurry of Samoan penalties in the attacking end. Pinkelman slammed over the definitive try. Niua made the kick, and the Eagles were up 26-7 with two minutes to play.

Two more cards came out when a Samoa threw a forearm near Barrett’s head as the USA was attacking, first yellow then red. The Americans turned the ball over quickly after tapping the ball into play, though, and Samoa scored an inconsequential try at the death.