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Team USA opened with a 1-1 record Friday in Dubai, shutting out China 31-0 in the opening match before falling at the death to England by a conversion. The results set up an all-important pool finale against Australia, also 1-1 against China and England.
In the opening match, Abby Gustaitis and Ilona Maher dotted down in the first half to put the USA up 10-0 at the break, and debutant Ashlee Byrge set up two tries in the second half, assisting Cheta Emba and Kris Thomas for scores. Emba scored twice in the half.
In the second match, England won the opening restart and held onto the ball for the first 90 seconds. The Eagle defense was up to the task, and eventually Kris Thomas tackled an English ball carrier into touch, giving the USA an attacking lineout.
Ilona Maher broke through off the set piece play, offloading to Abby Gustaitis, who would get cut down just short of the line. Cheta Emba got the next carry, and she appeared to be tie up in a maul inches from pay dirt when she flopped out of the mess of bodies and on top of the ball in the try zone for the first try of the match.
The lead wouldn’t last long, as Abbie Brown was able to identify a hole in the American defense, and when Nicole Heavirland rushed to fill the void in the line, Brown stepped inside her and was off to the races. Both tries were converted, leaving he game knotted at 7-7.
The half would end without any more scores, though England had a great opportunity after a wild pass from Gustaitis was knocked on by Naya Tapper 10 meters from the USA’s own try line. But England knocked on the scoring opportunity, ending the half.
The Eagles opened the second half with possession, and despite a very stiff English defense, they’d hold onto the ball for four-straight minutes. They were a half step away from the losing the pill in the breakdown on multiple occasions, but eventually Tapper found some space on the corner for the go-ahead try.
The Americans would hold onto the ball into the final minute before giving England its only meaningful second-half possession. That’s all it would take, though. The Eagles lost the ball on a holding-on penalty in the attacking 22, but England went more than 80 meters off the quick tap to score under the posts with time expiring. The gimme conversion sent England to the winner’s circle.