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Ian Muir photo

Despite having very little time to practice, the United States put in an inspiring performance against Argentina in the opener of the Americas Rugby Championship. A man up and a late score looked like the Eagles had a chance to shock the Argentinean second side. However, a 78th minute score from the visitors spoiled the tournament opener as the game ended in a 35-35 draw.

The Eagles started extremely fast as newly minted flyhalf James Bird pinned Argentina deep in its own territory with a well-executed kick. The visitors shanked a kick by their own goal line and the Eagles spun the ball wide. Unfortunately, the last pass found touch. On the ensuing lineout, the Eagles won a penalty for failure to release and Bird nailed the penalty for his first three points of international career. Minutes later after a few exchanges of possession, Bird doubled the lead with another penalty for failure to release.

Things went from good to great in the 12th minute. Off a scrum just inside the Argentina 10 meter line, the Eagles picked off the back of the scrum, and the ball found Taku Ngwenya out wide. The winger dashed around a defender and cut inside off the sideline to slide in down the right sideline. Bird nailed the conversion to take a 13-0 lead.

Argentina struck back nearly immediately, however. Off a fielded kick, a couple passes later, Tomas Carrio snuck through the defense to cut the lead to 13-7. Argentina nearly took the lead minutes later. The Argentineans busted through the line and were seemingly in the clear. Ngwenya came out of nowhere to tackle the streaking player and save a try momentarily. For his efforts, Ngwenya forced a 5-meter scrum for the visitors. On the ensuing scrum, Argentina barged over for a 14-13 lead.

The Eagles bounced back after a bad 10 minute spell. The United States attacked the Argentina defense and almost scored on numerous occasions. The Eagles skipped a chance at points and nearly earned a try for their efforts. After being stymied, however, the Eagles settled for retaking the lead 16-14 on another penalty.

Argentina took the lead back with five minutes left in the half. Joaquin Paz was the beneficiary of a beautiful offload. The flyhalf, skipped through a desperate tackle after receiving a one handed offload back inside. With the conversion, Argentina led 21-16. The Eagles probed for the rest of the half but Bird missed his first kick of the night. Argentina took a shot at posts after the forty-minute mark but the kick fell short.

The United States started the second half strong earning a number of penalties to work its way down field. Surprisingly, with little time to prepare together, the Eagles dominated the scrum earning several penalties in the action. After the penalties, the Eagles maintained possession inside the five-meter line and were held up twice. On the third attempt Todd Clever would not be denied. Shearing off a maul, the captain powered his way over for the tying score.

Argentina nearly retook the lead after shooting through the center of the defense. Only a dropped pass by the Argentina winger saved the Eagles from yielding another try. The Eagle defense finally broke again the 64th minute. Scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou took a quick tap penalty from 10-meters out. It looked as if the halfback had made a double move but the referee rewarded the try. Argentina used some nifty passing to work its way down the field and was rewarded for its effort. With the conversion, the Pumas led 28-21.

Argentina slipped through the defense again but a try saving tackle from Jake Anderson prevented a score. Moments later Cam Dolan intercepted a pass and scored a try under the posts to tie the game at 28. A string of exceptional hands brought the Eagles inside the Argentina 22. Olive Kilifi took the ball to the goal line and nearly scored. An Argentina penalty slowed play and after numerous warnings had a player sent to the bin. The Eagles kicked to touch and after the line out Mike T’eo nearly broke through the line. The Eagles methodically inched the ball closer and Eric Fry finally pushed his way over for a score. In the 75th minute, the Eagles led 35-28.

The Eagles almost sealed the game as they broke the line and Clever looked to have found a teammate out wide but the ball was lost forward. Argentina broke through a fractured defense. The visitors outflanked the United States and to tie the game in the 78th minute. The Eagles earned another penalty at a scrum in Argentina territory. The Eagles had a chance to win with a penalty but Bird’s kick hooked wide. The Eagles continued to probe the defense and gave away a penalty at midfield. Argentina lined up the kick but it fell short and the game ended in a draw.

The John Mitchell era nearly opened with a bang. Although the United States blew an opportunity for a win, it was a positive start to the new coaches tenure.