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Team USA went 1-1-1 on the opening day in Wellington, tying France, beating Samoa and losing to New Zealand. The performance wasn't good enough to see the Eagles through to the top eight, as they are relegated to the Challenge Trophy bracket. Awaiting them in the quarterfinals is Japan at 5:22 p.m. ET.
Against France, the Eagles got on the board first through Martin Iosefo in the third minute. Hughes converted, putting them up 7-0. However, France reeled off three-straight tries in the last three minutes of the first half, taking a commanding 21-7 lead.
Perry Baker displayed his world class speed and elusion, beating four defenders to start the second-half account. And Andrew Durutalo dotted down in the 14th minute, with Hughes remaining true on conversions, to pull the score level. There was time for another kickoff, but the stalemate remained unbroken.
In the second game against Samoa, the United States again got on the board first. This time the Eagles won the opening restart and didn’t give it up before Baker crossed over. Hughes remained perfect on conversions, putting the USA up 7-0. On the restart, Baker was yanked down midair. He landed awkwardly, causing the game to pause, but he stayed on.
Samoa won the ensuing kickoff, but Durutalo earned a penalty in a ruck, turning possession to the USA. Danny Barrett smashed his way through two defenders on the touch line, offloading to Folau Niua, who ricocheted through a tackle for a try.
Samoa took the opening restart and Niua was committed a high tackle, conceding an attacking penalty. A Samoan center found enough space outside Durutalo to break for the line. Samoa converted, making it 12-7.
The Eagles re-extended the lead before the break via Iosefo. Baker made a Samoan miss with very little space, drawing the rest of the defense before floating a pass over the top of would-be tacklers. Niua moved it to Iosefo, and he glided in for a score. The kick was missed, leaving the USA up 19-7 at the half.
Reserve Matai Leuta came on and sealed the win for the Eagles with a massive effort. He ran up the Samoan sideline, beat two defenders before passing inside. Two offloads later, and Leuta was away off Durutalo’s shoulder for the try. Hughes missed the kick, and the Eagles led 24-7 with 80 seconds to play.
Joe Perez added a try near the end, but it was too little, too late. The win, and France's defeat of Samoa, set the USA up with a must-win pool decider against New Zealand.
In day one's finale, the Eagles went stride for stride against New Zealand, with the final difference being a conversion. Stephen Tomasin got the Eagles on the board first, and Madison Hughes converted. New Zealand answered back to draw level, but Tim Mikkelson was sent to the sin bin, and before halftime Danny Barrett scored on the outside to push the USA up. The conversion was missed, and the Eagles led 12-7 at the break.
Back-to-back tries from Isaac Te Temaki and Mikkelson gave the All Blacks a 19-12 halftime lead. The Eagles had the ball and a chance to tie the match at the end, but a turnover led to Te Tamaki's second try and signaled the end of the USA's title hopes.