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Head coach Gary Gold said before the game the biggest threat to his team as the speed of the Maoris, and he couldn’t have been more right, as the Eagles leaked nine tries in a 59-22 defeat Saturday at Soldier Field. The game was marred by indiscipline, as the Maoris racked up three yellow cards and were lucky not to be shown more, if not red.
The Eagles managed to empty their bench, handing out three new caps to center Gannon Moore, prop Chance Wenglewski and Mika Kruse. Kruse wasn’t originally in the lineup, but he and Tim Maupin were pulled in just before the match, as Luke Hume and captain Nate Augspurger were late injury scratches. Tony Lamborn, who started at openside but finished at inside center, took over as skipper in Augspurger’s absence.
The Eagles will now head across the pond for three rankings tests against Samoa, Romania and Ireland in successive weeks.
The Maori made their first line break two minutes in. It was a desperate tackle from Tony Lamborn and an arm from Ryan Matyas forcing a knock-on and nullifying the threat. The Maoris sliced through the Eagles on their first set-piece a minute later, though, setting up a try for Regan Ware.
The Eagles mustered their first charge shortly after the initial kickoff. Dylan Audsley slipped through two tacklers for the initial half break, and on the other side of the field debutant Gannon Moore squeezed off an offload that kept the Eagles on the front foot. However, Kiwi lock Pari Pari Parkinson got away with some chicanery in the breakdown, turning the ball over.
The Maori doubled up in a flash, striking again through the backline. This time it was Mitch Karpik breaking a tackle to dot down.
Will Hooley added a penalty after Maori prop Ben May was penalized in the breakdown, putting the USA on the board.
Captain Ash Dixon took care of business at the back of the driving maul, burrowing into pay dirt for the third try of the contest. Dixon assisted on the next try almost immediately, flipping a backhanded offload to May for the fourth try of the match.
Audsley, in his first start in the No. 12 jersey, provided most of the USA’s punch in attack, and it was a cutback that got the Eagles into the attacked 22 with the pill for just the second time of the match. However, there was confusion about the intended destination of a Davies out pass, resulting in the ball dribbling into touch.
The Eagles caught their first big break with successive penalties being levied against the Kiwis. Down 23, the USA passed up a shot at goal for a lineout. The decision was rewarded, as a successful maul was brought down illegally by New Zealand. The American forwards had the Maoris on the back foot, driving to the doorstep.
Hooley kicked to touch again, opting for another shot at the maul. This time the defense was stout, and the Eagles couldn’t produce the ball or move the pile, resulting in a turnover. The Americans didn’t cash in on the pressure.
Dixon was sin binned for slowing the ball down intentionally in an American ruck, leaving the Maori sort a man. Then, just a couple of minutes shy of halftime, the largest man on the pitch, Parkinson, picked up the smallest, Davies, lifted him several feet off the ground and forcefully slammed him into the turf. Miraculously, Parkinson was shown just a yellow card.
The foul play knocked Davies out of the game, with Ruben de Haas replacing him. The Eagles manage to retain the ball in a spinning scrum, and de Haas zipped a flat pass to Ryan Matyas, who darted in for the USA’s first try of the game, cutting the deficit to 26-8 going into halftime.
Despite the two-man disadvantage, the Maoris scored seconds into the second stanza, as the Eagles botched the restart. Lock Isaia Walker-Leawere galloped half the field for the score. Then he punched one in from much shorter distance, extending the lead to 38-8 with 35 minutes to play.
Audsley’s good fortune didn’t continue in the second half, as he sailed a looping miss pass toward Gannon Moore, but it was picked off easily by the Maoris for a gimme try.
The Eagles got one back not long after, with Tim Maupin dotting down. It was Dylan Fawsitt who created the space, though, looping Will Magie to create the overload. Hooley drilled the conversion – 45-15.
The Eagles doubled up through Cam Dolan in the 70th minute. The Maori’s remarkable indiscipline produced a third yellow card and several successive penalties keeping the USA on the front foot deep in the attacking 22. De Haas went to Matyas straight off the scrum like the first try. This time the wing was stopped, but Dolan smashed over a phase later. Hooley converted – 45-22.
The Maoris ended the run when Jonah Lowe was served up a try by Akira Ioane. They stuck the No. 8 in the backline, laid a chip kick over the American defense, and Ioane hauled it in. He loped dozens of yards before dishing to the wing.
The Eagles went back on the offensive, but running out of options, Matyas popped a kick down the middle of the field directly into the hands of the younger Ioane brother, Josh. He darted into the space Matyas just left, assisting Stevenson for yet another try.