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Japan made it five-straight-wins-in-a-row over the United States with a 37-29 victory Saturday at a largely empty StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. It was an exciting contest throughout, as every time Japan threatened to pull away, the Eagles reeled them back within reach.
Blaine Scully’s play was a highlight, as the Leicester Tiger ran in three tries. He and Chris Wyles connected well on the day, and the mobile Eagle forwards played well outside of the scrums and mauls.
The USA made the first stab with ball in hand, Scully running through several sets of Japanese arms before losing possession around the attacking five-meter line. The Brave Blossoms then cleared their lines and ended the threat. Had Scully been able to hold onto the ball, the Eagles would have been in prime scoring position.
Not two minutes later Cam Dolan put the USA on the board. He sprinted through a sloppily won Japanese lineout, intercepted the hurried out-pass from No. 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani and ran in cleanly. Chris Wyles converted, putting the Eagles up 7-0. Scott LaValla getting a hand on the throw at the lineout was crucial in the sequence.
Japan responded just a couple of minutes later with a long maul. USA lost its shape as the maul slowly moved closer to the try line, Cam Dolan was pinged for coming in on the side, and with the referee’s arm extended to signal a penalty advantage, Japanese scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka darted in for the try. Converted, the score knotted the game at 7-7 with 13 minutes gone.
The Blossoms looked like they were in for another try in quick succession, but speedy wing Kenki Fukuoka had the ball slapped out of his hands by Folau Niua in the try zone. A hard midfield run and offload, followed by some impressively quick ball, set Fukuoka free.
Japan did take the lead in the 10th minute with an Ayumu Goromaru penalty. Scott LaValla was called for tackling a Japanese dummy runner, an infraction the Eagles would repeat throughout the game.
Chris Wyles retaliated with a chip shot not three minutes later, as Japan was called for leaving its feet at the breakdown, drawing the score level at 10-10.
The next blow came when a nice run off a switch from Goromaru at midfield resulted in the Brave Blossoms penetrating deep into the American end. Despite some sloppy play under pressure, Akihito Yamada found a hole in the Eagle defense and raced in for the go-ahead try in the 28th minute. The conversion was made, putting Japan up 17-10.
Blaine Scully answered back three minutes later. Japan had possession, but a mishandle in the backline was picked up by Wyles. He broke through an arm tackle and passed to Scully for the finish. Wyles slotted the kick, set about 10 meters off the touch line, drawing the USA even at 17-17.
An unfortunate scrum penalty went against the Eagles with no time left on the clock in the first half. Tanaka feigned as though he was picking the ball up, Clever flew off the side of the scrum to tackle him and was called for unbinding early. Japan went for posts in an attempt to take the lead into halftime, but missed, leaving the score deadlocked at intermission.
Japan regained the lead at the onset of the second half, powering a five-meter scrum forward until Holani picked and powered over Mike Petri en route to pay dirt. Goromaru converted, putting the Blossoms up 24-17.
The game started to get chippy, first with Niua drilling Tanaka just after he passed, then with Clever taking a Japanese player out in the air during a lineout. The second encounter drew a whistle and started a minor scuffle.
Another penalty in the same Japanese possession, this one on Danny Barrett for coming in on the side of a ruck, saw Goromaru tee up three more points and extend the Blossom lead to 10 just on 50 minutes.
Phil Thiel then committed a crucial error with the Eagles deep in their own end after some deft kicking from Japan. His throw just outside the five-meter line was not straight, and Japan took a scrum. The Brave Blossoms again pushed the Americans over the try line and Holani dove in. After the conversion, Japan was up 34-17 with 25 minutes to play.
In the 60th minute, a Cal Bear connection saw the Eagles stop the bleeding. Eric Fry came up with a turnover, Danny Barrett gashed the Brave Blossom defense and dished to Scully for the try in the corner. Wyles slotted the difficult conversion, pulling the Eagles within 10 at 34-24.
Japan, content to milk the clock, successfully engaged the Eagles in another back-and-forth kicking match beginning around the 64th minute. The Eagles didn’t get ball back in hand and go through phases until the 69th minute following a Japanese penalty.
Tom Coolican made a clean throw at a lineout following the penalty, and Seamus Kelly and Suniula performed a give-and-go to create an overload on the wing. Wyles darted forward on the perimeter and made a no-look pass to Scully, who scored his third try of the game in the corner. Wyles took a massive hit when taking the tackle, and Niua kicked the conversion, but missed, leaving the USA down five at 34-29 with just under 10 minutes to play.
Japan got into the attacking end with a nice dummy-and-go from flyhalf Harumichi Tatekawa. The Brave Blossoms then went through several phases, and the Eagles eventually folded under pressure and committed a penalty. Goromaru ticked over three points, putting Japan up two scores, 37-29, with five minutes to play.
Japan was called for a penalty in its own end with two minutes to play, and the Eagles opted to kick to the corner and go for a try. They won the lineout, but Petri knocked on at the back of a ruck shortly thereafter, killing any shot at a comeback.
Tries: Scully (3), Dolan
Cons: Wyles (3)
Tries: Holani (2), Tanaka, Yamada
Cons: Goromaru (4)
Pens: Goromaru (3)