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The United States closed its November tour with a 20-14 loss to Fiji at Stade de la Rabine in Vannes, France. The Eagles got down 15-0 in the first half, but played the better final 60 minutes and was hard done by to not emerge with the win.
It took several minutes for either team to find their footing, as penalties, dust-ups and stoppages marred the opening eight minutes. In the ninth, however, Fiji was able to capitalize on territory gained from an American penalty. The Fijians moved the ball from sideline to sideline off an attacking lineout, and a try was on until Takudzwa Ngwenya made a blitz tackle, forcing a knock-on with several unmarked Fijians outside the ball carrier. Penalty advantage was being held, though, and Fiji slotted three points to take the lead.
The Eagles endured some kicking and scrum woes through the next 20 minutes. When they tried to clear, their kicks often gained little ground. Shortly after one of those truncated boots to touch, Fiji was able to string together some of the offloading magic it’s known for to put in the game’s first try. Converted, the USA trailed 10-0.
Minutes later, a panicked attempt to clear the ball was again punished. This time it was Shalom Suniula’s kick, straight down the middle of the field to an awaiting Fijian, that did the Eagles in. The counter attack was direct and not all too difficult for Fiji, which took a 15-0 lead after a second failed conversion.
The Eagles first real shot at scoring came in the 34th minute. After a smart play by fullback Ronald McLean to lunge for a Fiji kick with one foot left out of bounds, making the ball out on the full and bringing play back to deep inside the Fijian end, John Quill took a sharp line and charged within a couple of meters from pay dirt. He lost the ball, though, stifling the threat.
The lineout continued to be the Eagles’ best attacking platform, and they’d have two more in the opening half. Fiji was called for a penalty and shown a yellow card off the first for pulling down a maul just meters short of the try line. The USA opted for another, mauling again to the edge of points before being stopped and called for a knock-on in the pile of bodies, ending the half.
Seamus Kelly got the Eagles on the board just a couple of minutes after intermission, finding a hole after some purposeful, go-forward ball created space on the perimeter. McLean slotted the conversion, pulling the USA to within eight at 15-7.
Fiji took the momentum right back after the kickoff, gaining the territorial advantage. A scrum penalty later, and some enterprising play by the Fiji backs, and Fiji was in on the wing for another try. The touch line conversion missed, and the USA trailed 20-7.
Continuing to work well from the lineouts, Ngwenya got on the board in the 59th minute. The ball moved quickly through the back line to him, and he danced and darted in for the score. McLean converted, pulling the USA to within six at 20-14.
The United States had a chance to take the lead with another nice backline break near the 70th minute. Shalom Suniula dummied a switch and squeezed through the defensive line. He seemed to have the angle to score, but a few steps short of the try line he tried to dish inside to Kelly. What he didn’t see was a Fijian defender between him and his teammate, and the pass was intercepted.
The USA bounced back from the gut punch that was that mistake and thrashed into the attacking end again. This time, an obstruction call ended the drive. The run of play was all the USA’s until the very end, thanks in part to a second Fijian sin bin, this one for throwing an elbow at Palamo.
Unfazed by the dirty play, Palamo continued to lead the Eagle attack with hard-charging runs. Greg Peterson and Kelly pitched in, too, keeping the USA on the front foot. One of those probing possessions was ended by a Nick Wallace knock-on, but the Eagles got another chance in the waning minutes with an attacking lineout.
Like they had in that position all day, they marched dangerously close to the try line, and like they had been carded for once before, the Fijians illegally tore the maul down. Another penalty was given, but not a penalty try, which was in order. The USA opted again for a lineout, and again Fiji illegally stopped the threat. This time, though, no call was made, and the Eagles couldn’t rally again.
Tries: Nagusa, Votu (2)
Tries: Kelly, Ngwenya