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Despite picking up two yellow cards and leaking three tries during two power plays, the Eagles defeated Australia 22-17 in their pool finale Saturday in Dubai. The result sees them finish second in Pool B and advance to the quarterfinals, where they’ll meet France, which finished second in Pool C behind Canada and ahead of Fiji and Spain.
Kris Thomas opened scoring for the USA inside the first minute, putting the Eagles up 7-0. The next six minutes would be a defensive battle between two heavyweights, until a yellow card was shown to Cheta Emba just before the half for cynically slapping the ball out of the Australian halfback’s hands from an offside position.
Australia scored from the penalty play deep in the American end, but the Eagles made them work for it and forced the score into the corner, preventing a successful conversion. So the USA led 7-5 going into the break, but Australia would win possession to start the second stanza.
The Eagles conceded an early penalty, but the defense was otherwise unphased, eventually turning the ball over near midfield. Ilona Maher looped around a tackled Nicole Heavirland, taking a pass from the deck to the house untouched.
The conversion was missed, but Maher doubled up seconds later, catching an offload off the restart and rumbling through one Australian en route to another try. That conversion was missed as well, making it 17-5 to the Americans with three minutes to play.
Australia cut into the lead with an Ellia Green try, but only after Joanne Fa’avesi was lost to the sin bin for a high tackle. Still up a player, Lily Dick scored off a successful two-on-one when Evania Pelite attacked weak off a ruck to set Dick free. The first conversion was made, but the second missed, tying the game at 17-17 with 30 seconds to play.
Emba, one of the recipients of a yellow card which allowed Australia to remain in the game, then came up big with the game-winning try at the death to send the Eagles through to the quarterfinals.