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Ian Muir photo

Team USA fell to Samoa, 14-10, Friday in Hamilton, NZ. The Eagles overcame a first-half shutout to claim a 10-7 lead, but Samoa would snatch the result at the death. The loss makes the Eagles 1-1 heading into the all-important pool finale against Kenya.

The first half was a defensive clinic. The United States managed to turn Samoa away five times, and Samoa turned the USA over seven times. Samoa’s favored means of flipping possession was at the breakdown, often getting hands on the ball before American support arrived.

Finally, in the last second of the opening half, Samoa was able to break the stalemate off an overthrown lineout. The scrumhalf scooped up the ball and scurried through the American defense, breaking a tackle along the way. The conversion put the USA down 7-0 at the half.

The Eagles got on the board not a minute into the second stanza. Samoa bungled the restart, giving the USA possession. Ben Pinkelman made a carry into contact inside the Samoan 22. The tackler tried to hold him up, but he fought his knees to the ground to make it a tackle. Samoa was pinged for not releasing, and Pinkelman scored on the quick tap. The sideline conversion was missed, leaving the Americans down 7-5.

Perry Baker put the Eagles in front for the first time in the game off an errant Samoan lineout. Kevon Williams fed it to Martin Iosefo, who passed Baker on the wing. The conversion was again missed, 10-7 to the USA with three minutes to play.

The Eagles won the restart and were on the attack again when Martin Iosefo was tackled high, a rare head-to-head hit, but a knock-on was called in lieu of a penalty. Samoa would have a scrum deep in its own end with about 80 seconds to play.

Samoa won the ball, but the American defense stood strong like it had for six-and-a-half minutes in the opening half, pushing Samoa deep into its own 22. Then the whistle started, and two crucial penalties let Samoa free into the attacking end, and despite a valiant chase from Baker and Folau Niua, the Americans couldn’t prevent the walk-off try at the death.