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The United States won its first full-rankings test of the John Mitchell era Saturday, beating Canada 30-22 in front of 7,145 fans at Dell Diamond in Round Rock, Texas. The Eagles trailed by five early in the second half, but on the back of three Todd Clever tries stole the momentum and the game.
The win marks the USA’s fourth-straight over Canada, which constitutes its longest ever winning streak in the rivalry. 14 new caps were handed out in the process, with Pat Blair being the lone member of the match-day squad to not see any action.
With Argentina beating Chile 52-15 earlier in the day, the bonus-point win sees the Eagles keep pace atop the Americas Rugby Championship standings after two rounds. Barring any upsets the next three weeks, it will likely be point differential deciding the competition’s first-ever champion.
The first 45 minutes of Saturday’s game was marred by American penalties, as Canadian scrumhalf Gordon McRorie slotted five penalty kicks in that span. The first was on the heels of a free kick given to Canada from a scrum infringement, and shortly thereafter the Canadians stole the ball against the head in the second pack down, earning a penalty seconds later. McRorie teed up three points to earn the early lead.
Shortly thereafter, the Eagles gifted McRorie another shot at posts with a penalty in a tackle. Like the first, the scrumhalf slotted the kick easily, putting Canada up 6-0 10 minutes in.
The Eagles finally got on the front foot in the 20th minute with the help of back-to-back penalties on Canada. Ultimately, it was failure to roll away in the tackle about 10 meters from its own goal line that Canada was penalized for. Eagle flyhalf James Bird lined up the easy kick and put the USA on the board.
Just after the restart, Eric Fry was pinged for entering a maul from the side following an attacking Canadian lineout. McRorie then banged over another three points – 9-3.
The Eagles saw a prime scoring opportunity go begging following the kickoff, as they lost a second-straight put-in at the scrum. However, a counter-attacking move off a Canadian clearance kick led to a go-ahead try.
After the initial surge, the Eagle forwards inched the ball closer to the line before it was spun wide. Eventually it was an offload from inside center Lemoto Filikitonga to midfield partner Chad London resulting in the score. Bird’s conversion was true, putting the USA up 10-9.
At the half-hour mark, thanks to a penalty in a tackle, McRorie slotted his fourth penalty of the night, regaining the lead for Canada – 12-10.
Filikitonga suffered a leg injury near the 32nd minute, and Seattle Saracens’ Mike Garrity subbed on to earn his first cap. Despite an ascendancy in possession the rest of the half, the Eagles couldn’t produce any more points, trailing by two at the break.
The second half started much the same way the first half went, as a flurry of American penalties resulted in a McRorie penalty attempt. He made it five-for-five, extending the lead to 15-10 five minutes into the half.
JP Eloff, who subbed on for Bird at halftime, put the USA on the offensive after a long defensive stand. He saw a crease in the Canadian back line, hit it and squeezed an offload out the back. The Eagles were stopped inside the 22 on the possession, but Canada was called offside.
Clever called for a kick for touch, and he would be the one to dot down the try off a driving maul from the lineout to tie the game. Jake Anderson’s first test kick from tee missed, leaving the game deadlocked at 15-15 after 58 minutes.
Luke Hume burst for a break on the ensuing restart, and Canada lost openside flanker Alistair Clark to the sin bin while scrambling in defense. Clever again called for a kick to touch, and Eloff got the Eagles a lineout from about 10 meters away from pay dirt. Again their forwards drove over a maul, which touched down, earning a 20-15 lead. Reserve scrumhalf Niku Kruger missed the conversion.
Canada mistepped again, tackling Garrity after he laid a grubber on the wing. The USA again opted for a lineout, and once the Canadian bodies were piled in to stop the maul, Clever snuck free on the weak side for his third try of the half. This time Kruger nailed the conversion, making it 27-15 with just under 15 minutes to play.
Duncan Maguire pulled the game back to within reach for Canada off a broken play, slipping through some isolated American forwards on the perimeter for a try. The conversion attempt was slotted from the touchline, cutting the Eagle lead to 27-22 with 10 to go.
Kruger pushed the Eagles back up by two scores with a penalty in front of the posts in the dying minutes. He earned the penalty, too, bursting through a hole from the base of a ruck before being brought down feet from the try line. It was at that breakdown that Canada was penalized for not releasing.
The USA has one more home match next week against Chile in Ft. Lauderdale before heading south to take on Uruguay and Brazil to finish the competition.