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With Martin Iosefo lost to an injury suffered against Samoa, compounding the absence of Stephen Tomasin and Madison Hughes, the Eagles tied Kenya in the pool finale, 19-19. The result was a 1-1-1 Pool D record for the Eagles, pushing them into the bottom eight for day two.
Kenya raced out to a 19-0 advantage, and the Eagles stormed back to draw level, but ran out of time and steam to finish the job. This marks the fourth time in a tournament-and-a-half that the Eagles have conceded a two-score-or-more deficit in the first half. It’s the third time they’ve conceded a 19-0 start.
The Eagles won the first restart, getting it to Danny Barrett who would take on two defenders But in support were two of the USA’s weakest ruckers – Perry Baker and Maka Unufe – and Kenya’s Nelson Oyoo poached the ball and ran up the blindside for the opening try.
Kenya made it a two-score lead via Jeffery Olouch, but it was Oyoo doing the hard yards again. He jinked in and around two American defenders before feeding Olouch in space. Willy Ambaka then beat Barrett and Folau Niua up the touch line to extend the lead. The latter two conversions were slotted, making it 19-0 with time enough for one restart.
The Eagles still didn’t put together much of a coherent attack, but Baker made something from nothing, picking up a loose ball bouncing around deep inside the American end and danced through the Kenyan line before racing long-range for the try. Niua converted – 19-7 at the half.
Running out of attractive options, head coach Mike Friday put Carlin Isles and Baker on the field at the same time. It worked with Baker scoring a broken field try in the first half and Isles scoring one to start the second. The kickoff wasn’t taken cleanly, and under pressure the Eagles shuffled the ball to Isles, who darted around the Kenyan defense and over 70 meters for a try. The successful kick made it 19-14.
The racehorse combo paid off for the USA’s next try, too. At center, Baker drew the attention of the Kenyans before offloading to Isles for his second score. The conversion was missed, locking the score at 19-19 with three minutes to go.
As precious time melted off the clock, Baker was called for playing the man off the ball and Barrett for diving over at the breakdown. Then after Pinkelman and Niua drove through a Kenyan ruck, Unufe knocked on the pickup, keeping the ball with Kenya, which appeared to get away with a knock-on in the next tackle. Kenya managed to maintain possession until the final whistle, clearing to touch safely.