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The United States took the Plate Final in dramatic fashion Sunday in Port Elizabeth. The Eagles jumped all over Fiji to start, scoring two tries in quick succession for a 14-0 lead, and after Fiji tied the game up in the second half, Perry Baker came on to ice the win.
Fiji took possession first in the contest, but a wayward offload wound up in Andrew Durutalo’s hands. The Eagles then reversed field, and Carlin Isles zoomed past his defender and in for the opening try. Folau Niua slotted the touch line conversion, putting the USA up, 7-0.
The Eagles won the restart, and Durutalo made another big play against his former country, bashing through two defenders from a five-meter penalty play. Maka Unufe put the USA on the front foot in that possession, and Niua slotted a second difficult conversion, making 14-0.
The Eagles remained strong on defense the rest of the half, but Zack Test aggravated an ankle injury suffered a week earlier in Dubai right on halftime. The USA’s all-time points leader came back on for the second, half, though.
As good as Isles was in the first half, he struggled in the second. He knocked on an easy catch to give Fiji the ball, and on that possession he failed to make a touch line tackle, resulting in a try. Fiji converted to cut the gap to just seven.
Fiji leveled the table after the Eagles bungled another possession. Madison Hughes found himself held up in the tackle, and as his teammates watched and waited for a whistle, a Fijian player stole the ball and ran in untouched for a converted try – all knotted up, 14-14, with three minutes to play.
Perry Baker came through, then, putting the USA back on top. Hughes kicked the ball downfield from his own end for Baker. The Fijian losing the race to Baker knocked the ball closer to American pay dirt, and Baker cleanly picked it up and scored under the posts. The conversion made it 21-14 with about 90 seconds to play.
The ensuing restart went straight to touch, giving Fiji a free kick at midfield, but the Eagles turned the ball over and caught a break in the tackle when Fiji was called for a penalty. Niua kicked to touch, but there was enough time for a lineout.
Durutalo won the lineout and passed back to Hughes, who retreated until time expired and kicked to touch for the win.
The win was a massive one for Mike Friday and his troops, beating the then-Series leading Fijians. It will likely put the USA back in the top 10 upon the tournament’s conclusion, and it’s the fourth win in Port Elizabeth over a team that finished ahead of the United States in last season’s final standings.
Tries: Isles, Durutalo, Baker
Cons: Hughes, Niua (2)
Tries: Ravouvou, Rawaca
Cons: Kolinisau (2)