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Team USA has booked a fifth-consecutive semifinal appearance in as many tournaments with a defeat of South Africa Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Nev. The Eagles never trailed and were in top form, suffocating South Africa from the get-go.
The reward is a rematch with New Zealand. The Eagles and All Blacks have met in the knockout round of each tournament this season. Twice the USA has won, 17-7 in the New Zealand semifinals and 31-12 in the South Africa semifinals. Twice New Zealand has won, 21-5 in a heated Sydney final and by the same score in the Dubai final.
In Saturday’s semi, the Eagles turned South Africa over in their own end to earn their first attacking possession. It took the better part of a minute-and-a-half, but sustained pressure from the USA paid off when South Africa was penalized feet short of their own try line. In lieu of a penalty play, the Eagles just fed a speeding Danny Barrett, who crashed over two Blitzboks for the score.
Stephen Tomasin doubled up seconds later, streaking up the left sideline for a long-range try. Barrett had a big hand in the play again, drawing attention on the other side of the pitch. Hughes converted both kicks, putting the home team up 14-0.
South Africa appeared to be in for its first score, but desperate defense by the Eagles staved off the threat. Barrett appeared to injure his shoulder in a tackle, spring to his feet with one arm hanging uselessly, and put the remaining good shoulder in for another tackle attempt.
With Barrett on the ground, the Eagles turned the Boks over feet from pay dirt. Ben Pinkelman made a crucial play, springing to his feet to play the ball himself after being tackled, keeping possession. From that ruck, Hughes fed Isles, who gashed up the right sideline. Barrett ignored the athletic trainer who came on to tend to him and hit the ruck to support Isles.
The next phase, Iosefo was under the posts. Hughes nailed the easy kick, putting the USA up 21-0 at halftime.
Carlin Isles played an integral role on the next score, touching the ball four times on the possession. First, he attacked the middle of the field, forcing the South Africans to scurry to cover. Then he got the ball again and shifted it quickly so Iosefo could make a run. Then he plucked from the next breakdown and sprinted in on the weak side.
Matai Leuta slammed the door on a comeback on the next kickoff. Folau Niua floated the ball perfectly, and Leuta plucked it out of the air in stride and strolled in untouched. Up 29-0 with over three minutes to play, the Eagles were uncatchable.