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Ian Muir photo

Team USA has ticked off another first, reaching back-to-back gold-medal matches for the first time in program history. They did so with a 31-14 defeat of New Zealand in the semifinals Sunday in Cape Town, avenging the only two losses of the season.

Awaiting the USA in the final is Fiji, which beat host South Africa at the death in the other semifinal. The Eagles beat Fiji 24-14 in last week’s quarterfinals in Dubai. They go for the gold at 12:44 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

The Eagles struggled to get out of the starting gates against New Zealand in the pool finale and cup final last week in Dubai. Sunday, they got off to a blistering pace and New Zealand stayed at the starting line.

Danny Barrett snatched the opening restart out of the air, giving the USA first possession. Martin Iosefo made a big carry, putting the Eagles on the front foot, and Steven Tomasin capped off the start with a try in the corner. The conversion was missed – 5-0.

New Zealand won the next kickoff, but committed a penalty deep in its own end. Folau Niua was repelled from the try line first, then Danny Barrett by a slew of All Blacks, before Martin Iosefo found a crease and dotted down thanks to a pair of Kiwi penalties. Hughes made the kick, pushing the lead to 12-0.

Then Barrett stole the show, catching an offload from Ben Pinkelman inside the American 22 before thumping two All Blacks with thunderous shoulder bumps en route to the try of the tournament. The extras were made right on halftime, giving the Eagles a 19-0 lead.

They extended it seconds into the second half, with Perry Baker walking in for a try on the USA’s first possession. Hughes got it started with a break up the blind side of the pitch, linking up with Iosefo in  support. Niua shipped it wide to the speedster for the score. Hughes added the conversion, making it 24-0.

New Zealand got on the board with under three minutes left through Andrew Knewstubb. Baker got isolated in contact and rolled the ball back after the tackle. New Zealand scooped it up and wen the other way untouched. The conversion cut the lead to 17.

The Eagles added one more in the final minute when Maceo Brown fed Carlin Isles and offload, and the wing did the rest.