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Ian Muir photo

Team USA bounced back from a winless effort in Dubai with a clean sheet and near perfect opening match in Cape Town, blanking New Zealand 22-0 to start pool play. The Eagles scored twice on each side of halftime, showcasing a suffocating defense and purposeful attack.

Folau Niua’s opening kick didn’t go 10 meters, giving New Zealand the first possession. Martin Iosefo won the ball back via a well-earned breakdown penalty, and after the first couple of phases were stymied by an organized Kiwi defense, Madison Hughes made a half break, offloading to Iosefo, who offloaded to an uncovered Carlin Isles, who took it the rest of the way.

New Zealand won possession back on the restart, but the Eagle defense held strong for a solid minute until the All Blacks finally knocked on. Niua made the half break this time, squeezing off a no-look inside pass to Stephen Tomasin, who carried deep into the attacking 22.

He was brought down, but New Zealand was called for offside at the ruck. With advantage on, Isles quick tapped without much of a plan. Hughes ended up having to take the ball into contact, Tomasin cleared the ruck, and Isles picked the ball up from the base and shot in for his second try. Neither of the first two scores were converted, putting the USA up 10-0 going into the break.

The Eagles scored the first try of the second half, putting themselves three scores clear. Tomasin made the initial break again, and after Regan Ware was penalized and sent off for cynical play, Ben Pinkelman slammed over a score off a set play. Danny Barrett delivered a massive clear out on the possession.

If New Zealand had any hope left, it was dashed when Pinkelman threw an All Black ball carrier into touch, turning the ball over. Off the lineout, Maka Unufe slipped through the defensive line and won the race to pay dirt.