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Perry Baker chasing down the game winner against Fiji. Martin Seras Lima photo

The Eagles stood toe-to-toe with defending Series champion Fiji Saturday in the Cup semifinals, but Fiji came out on top, 21-12. The loss drops the USA to Plate contention.

The first- and third-ranked teams in the world slugged each other for the first five minutes of the match, both having probing possessions shut down by the other. In the sixth minute Carlin Isles ended the stalemate with a trademark try around the corner of the Fijian defense. He had to run backwards to bend around the wing, dotting down in the corner.

Fiji took the lead with a typically Fijian effort right on halftime. The Eagles were knocking on the door with no time left, and a counter-ruck saw the ball squirt free and scooped up by Isake Katonibau, who raced 80 meters the other direction for the try. Fiji’s score was converted, putting the favorites up 7-5 going into the break.

Jerry Tuwai made it a two-score game early in the second half, violently stepping Folau Niua off a scrum and scampering under the posts. Conversion good, Fiji led 14-5.

The Eagles made wholesale subs and mounted a multi-phase possession to try and get back in it, but Matai Leuta threw an errant pass which Ben Pinkelman knocked on, and Fiji scored during the advantage, extending the lead to 21-5.

Will Holder would score at the death, but it was too little, too late.