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Team USA still stands in first place after a fourth-place finish in Singapore Sunday. The Eagles’ lead over second-place Fiji, though, was trimmed from seven points to three with two tournaments left. South Africa, which eliminated the Eagles from gold medal contention, came back from a 19-0 deficit to beat Fiji and claim the cup title.
Unlike last week, the Eagles started well, beating Wales, 31-12, Kenya, 17-14, and England 22-7, to sweep Pool C. They extended their quarterfinal record to 8-0 on the season, displaying resilience to beat Argentina, 12-10, before losing the card-filled rematch to England to miss out on hardware for just the second time this season.
Head coach Mike Friday had to reach deeper into his cupboard to deliver the result than he has all season. Perry Baker, Danny Barrett and Martin Iosefo were again unavailable due to injury, and Maka Unufe has not yet been available all season. Baker, Barrett and Iosefo are all expected back for the final two tournaments of the season in Paris and London, and Friday indicated in a post-tournament interview Unufe may be available, too.
In London at the end of May, the Eagles will be paired with Australia, Wales and Spain in Pool D, meaning potential knockout match-ups with South Africa, Argentina, Canada and Japan.
In the semifinals, South Africa suffocated the USA with possession and physicality. The Blitzboks held onto the ball most of the first half, challenging the Eagles repeatedly to make their one-up tackles before eventually punching through for a try twice, taking a 12-0 lead into halftime.
On the back of consecutive South African penalties, Stephen Tomasin broke the seal for the USA two minutes into the second half. He did so by crashing over from short range. Seconds later, Impi Visser caught an offload from Justin Geduld, who drew two tacklers on the touch line and slipped the assist off as he was being dragged into touch, and rebutted to extend the lead.
Tomasin was sent off for a blatant intentional knock just inside two minutes, resulting in a penalty try for the Boks, putting the game out of reach.
The mark was made on the bronze medal match immediately, as Joe Schroeder was pinged for a not-so-blatant intentional knock-on, drawing a yellow card. As the Eagles ran out the two minutes with static possession, England returned the favor, drawing a card for throwing the ball away while carrying a writhing Kevon Williams.
Marcus Tupuola squirted through the middle of the stressed English defense to draw first blood during the power play, but Dan Norton skinned his opposite seconds later to level the table. As England and the USA traded knock-ons at the end of the half, Schroeder picked up a second yellow card and subsequent red card for a tip tackle, giving both teams six players to finish the half.
The nine-minute first half ended with a converted England try. The extra time played assured England, up 14-7, would play the entire second half a man up. The Eagles didn’t give it up easily, but the sustained pressure resulted in a trio of tries to put the game away.