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The United States fell 25-16 to Samoa in Sunday’s World Cup opener at Brighton Community Stadium. The Eagles were in the game until a missed conversion in the 75th minute, displaying spells of quality rugby, but too many penalties helped Manu Samoa secure the win.
Tusi Pisi put his team up 3-0 in the eighth minute with the first of what would be five successful Samoan penalty kicks, and Tim Nanai Williams widened the gap in the 20th minute, collecting a well-placed grubber from Pisi in the try zone. The conversion attempt was missed, leaving the Eagles down 8-0 through the first quarter of the match.
Samoa conceded a couple of kicking mistakes in the next stretch of play. Two punts from hand found touch on the full, giving the USA midfield lineouts, but the Eagles couldn’t capitalize. An overthrow in the second lineout was caught by openside Jack Lam, who ran up-field to put Samoa on the front foot. Seconds later the whistle blew for a breakdown penalty, and Pisi added three more points to the board – 11-0 nearing the half-hour mark.
The Eagles caught a bit of momentum shortly thereafter, as AJ MacGinty made a break to drag the ball over the gainline. Blaine Scully and Eric Fry made carries before Samoa was whistled for being offside. MacGinty then split the uprights to get the Americans on the board.
The fortune continued for the Eagles with a stolen lineout in their own end minutes later. The turnover ball was swung wide through the hands of a few Eagles, and it was Seamus Kelly’s pass to Chris Wyles that put them over the line for the first American try of the tournament.
MacGinty’s conversion was missed, but the try brought the difference to three – 11-8. Pisi added another penalty before the intermission, but the late run by the Eagles put them down just one score, 14-8, at the half.
The momentum carried into the second half, with Thretton Palamo making an impressive line break out of the defensive end of the field before dishing to Al McFarland. The move ended with an incidental obstruction, but a reversal of field position was still won.
Samoa took back the run of play not much later, though, scoring off a second kick. This time Pisi’s grubber bounced off the hands of Taku Ngwenya before being gathered by Alesana Tuilagi and dotted down a phase later. The conversion was no good, but Pisi would add three points minutes later after the Eagles were pinged for a high tackle. With half an hour to play, Samoa led 22-8.
MacGinty erased that score with a penalty kick of his own in the 53rd minute. Ngwenya bundled a Samoan ball carrier into touch, giving the Eagles an attacking lineout. Samu Manoa charged forward after the set piece was won, and Samoa was called for offside at the ensuing breakdown. The score made it 22-11.
Despite a couple of thrilling runs from Ngwenya, the USA failed to get on the board through the third quarter of the game. In the 70th minute, Samoa added to its lead with a touch-line penalty kick from Mike Stanley after McFarland was called for blocking a Samoan defender just off a ruck. With 10 minutes to play, Samoa led 25-11.
Reserve prop Chris Baumann scored his first international try in the 74th minute to make it a game again. The Eagles earned a five-meter lineout when Tuilagi was penalized for a deliberate knock on during a menacing attack. A series of pick-and-jams ended with Baumann diving on the line.
The conversion, however, was missed, leaving the Eagles down two scores with not enough time. The miss also saw the Americans lose out on a bonus point, which would have come in handy in a pool thrown wide open after Japan’s upset of South Africa.
Samoa will regroup for a meeting with the Springboks Saturday in Birmingham, and the Eagles will try to earn a Scottish scalp Sunday in Leeds.