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Italy defeated the United States 24-20 Saturday at Avaya Stadium in the opening summer test for the Eagles. The home team led most of the first half, and though Italy threatened to pull away at times in the second half, the Eagles got stuck in and made a comeback bid.
The game got off to an ugly start, both because of a flurry of turnovers by both teams and a scary collision that saw Takudzwa Ngwenya and Leonardo Sarto knocked unconscious. AJ MacGinty pumped up a high kick, and Ngwenya went aggressively on the chase. His head collided directly with Sarto’s, and both went out cold. The game paused for several minutes, and both were sent off.
The stalemate continued with Italy and the USA trading mistakes until a scrum penalty against the Azzurri resulted in a shot at goal for MacGinty. He converted the opportunity to put the USA up 3-0 with just over 10 minutes gone. The favor was returned a few minutes later, when Thretton Palamo was pinged for tackling his opposite without the ball. Carlo Canna’s kick was good – 3-3.
Italy and the USA spent much of the first 20 minutes kicking back and forth, and fullback Will Holder decided to break the pattern by keeping the ball in hand. He gashed the Italian defense and was one defender from the try line when he tried to make an inside pass, but Canna came in with a swinging arm and was called for an intentional knock-on, resulting in a yellow card and a penalty try. MacGinty converted, making it 10-3.
A pair of penalties allowed Italy to score while down a man, and they did it via a rolling maul off a lineout, which had been working well for the Azzurri throughout the first half. Ornel Gega peeled off the back and dotted down. The conversion was missed, leaving the USA up 10-8.
Right before halftime Italy took the lead for the first time of the night. This time it was a scrum penalty giving Canna the shot at goal, which he took to put the visitors up 11-10 at the break. Momentum carried over intermission for Italy, as Canna added three more points via a drop goal in the 44th minute. Italy had an attacking penalty advantage, and Canna took the calculated risk to make it 14-10.
Italy returned the indiscipline in short order. An obstruction gave MacGinty the chance to put the Eagles on the front foot with a booming kick to touch. He gashed Italy with ball in hand off the lineout, Will Holder made a big run, and eventually the pressure resulted in an offside infraction against Italy. MacGinty nailed the kick to bring the USA within one again.
Italy’s maul continued to be a problem for the Eagle pack. The USA illegally collapsed one attempt, resulting in a yellow card to Cam Dolan, and then Italy easily walked in the next one. Canna slotted the conversion, establishing a two-score lead – 21-13.
Reserve debutant Tony Lamborn made his presence felt in the meat of the second half, helping the Eagles pull back into the contest. He stole a ball at the breakdown on one touchline, and later in the same possession he scored on the other after a half break from AJ MacGinty. The flyhalf converted, pulling the USA to within one in the waning minutes.
The Eagles’ best chance to get another score came when Nate Augspurger charged down a kick deep in the Italian end, but the ensuing ruck resulted in a penalty for Italy. The Azzurri would tack on another penalty kick before full time, earning the win.