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The USA men seemed destined to be playing for fifth-place Sunday after conceding a 19-0 second-half deficit, but a remarkable comeback effort, led by reserve center Maka Unufe, resulted in a 21-19 win and a berth into Sunday’s semifinals.
This marks the third year in a row, but only the fourth time in the 14-year history of the USA Sevens, that the Eagles have made the semifinals on home soil.
The match started well enough, with Perry Baker leaping for the opening restart and coming down with the ball, but his offload to Madison Hughes was knocked on. Possession switched hands twice more before Argentina made a break into the American half. A penalty set the Pumas up with an attacking set piece inside the 22, but Ben Pinkelman’s work in the breakdown garnered a penalty the other way.
The Eagles won the lineout, but a pass on the wing bounced off Baker’s chest and straight into the hands of an Argentine player, leading to the game-opening try. The conversion saw the Pumas up 7-0.
Danny Barrett made the first line break for the USA after some nifty footwork from Hughes, but he was caught and the Argentines turned the ball over. Barrett looked clean away again after an interception, but the assistant referee called the USA offside.
Argentina took advantage of the lucky break and scored off an attacking lineout at the death. The try was converted, putting the Eagles in a 14-point hole going into halftime.
It didn’t break the USA’s way after intermission. Stephen Tomasin won the restart, but the Argentine defense smothered the American attack thereafter, leading to a turnover in the breakdown and another try for the Pumas. This one wasn’t converted, 19-0.
The Eagles finally went on the offensive after the next restart. Tomasin again won the ball, and Maka Unufe found some space on the left wing, blitzing around the last defender and into pay dirt. The conversion was good, cutting the deficit to 12.
Argentina took possession again and made a break up the touch line, but Pinkelman tackled the streaking Puma into touch. Unufe struck again off the lineout, pulling the Eagles within five with two-and-a-half minutes to play.
It was the USA who committed the penalty this time, and Argentina who opted for the lineout. But the Eagle forwards stole the ball in the air and spun it wide. Unufe soaked up two defenders and offloaded to Baker, who blazed for the tying try under the posts. Hughes nailed the go-ahead conversion with enough time on the clock for another restart.
Argentina put together several phases and nearly broke for the game winner at the death a couple of times, but Unufe made a heroic game-saving tackle and the American defense held, winning the ball back via a penalty about 10 meters from their own line to secure the win.