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Ian Muir photo

Australia thwarted a 19-point second-half comeback attempt by Team USA in Sydney Friday, making the Eagles 26-19 losers to start pool play. The first half was all Australia, as the Eagles barely touched the ball and the home team racked up three tries. Then came a flurry of American tries after intermission, but the USA didn’t have the wind to finish the job.

Australia claimed the opening restart. After a few phases, the Aussies completed a successful switch, with two missed tackles from Folau Niua and Martin Iosefo ripping a hole open in the defense. Boyd Killingworth then caught an offload and sprinted in for the opening try of the match.

In the fourth minute, Iosefo’s errors mounted until he was shown a yellow card for intentionally knocking the ball on. It was his second penalty in seconds. Australia pierced the American defense all too easily off the set play from the ensuing lineout. Ben O’Donnell did the scoring, slicing between Madison Hughes and Stephen Tomasin. Both tries were converted, making it 14-0 to the home team.

The Eagles won their first meaningful possession on the next kickoff, but Hughes threw an interception while trying to offload, leading to a third try for Australia. This time the kick was off – 19-0 with a minute to play in the half. The Eagles would hold onto it until the intermission, but not manage much of a threat.

The seal was broken 20-some seconds into the second stanza, as the Eagles cleanly won the restart and got the ball to Perry Baker on the edge. He started up the touch line before cutting back inside two defenders and rounding them for pay dirt. Iosefo backed it up a minute later, catching a pass from Tomasin just before contact and running in untouched. Hughes converted both – 19-14.

Ben Pinkelman tied the game up with four minutes to play. Baker sucked in the defense on one touch line, Danny Barrett cleared the ruck, and Niua threaded a skip pass to an uncovered Pinkelman, who did the rest of the work. The kick was unsuccessful, leaving the game knotted at 19-19.

The Eagles appeared to be onto something on their next possession, which came in the middle of an exhausting series of play, but a wild offload found its way into Australia’s hands, and Tim Anstee would eventually plod his way in for the go-ahead score.  The conversion made it 26-19 with just under a minute to play.

Australia wound up with a lineout at full time, but the Eagles stole it and shifted the ball to Carlin Isles. He probed the periphery, but there was no room, and he passed. Australia won a penalty at the ensuing breakdown, ending the game.