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The USA Eagles fell to Samoa in their first match of the Pacific Nations Cup, 21-16.
Titi Lamositele was the lone try scorer for the Eagles, and scored it in the final ten minutes. A last-ditch effort to tie the game proved unsuccessful as Samoa held on for a hard-fought victory.
Samoa got out to a fast start in this one, controlling the pace and playing a very up-tempo game. In the fourth minute, a penalty deep in the USA 22 allowed Patrick Faapale to take an easy penalty goal to give Samoa the early lead. They would tack on another penalty goal about 10 minutes later to go up by six points.
The Eagles struggled to maintain possession throughout the half, as any efforts to get close to the try line were cut short by bad turnovers. In the 22nd minute, the USA caught a break when a penalty in the ruck allowed AJ MacGinty to put a penalty goal through to cut the deficit to three. However, just two minutes later, a penalty on the other end allowed Samoa to extend their lead to 9-3.
Captain Alesana Tuilagi was a workhorse for Samoa. In the early moments, he nearly scored a try after barreling over a few Eagles players, but was pushed out at the last second.
More USA turnovers cost them fantastic opportunities late in the half. After MacGinty sent the ball deep down the field in the 32nd minute, Ah See Tuala went on a speedy run, and offloaded to Tuilagi who burst across the try line to extend Samoa’s lead. A conversion extended the lead to 16-3. Just five minutes later, an offside penalty deep in the Eagles 22 allowed Tuilagi to chip the ball over to Tuala, who waltzed across the try line for Samoa’s second score of the match. It was 21-3 Samoa at the half.
The Eagles started the second half with their best chance of the match. A maul following a line out in the 45th minute brought them so close to the try line, but they just could not break through. That missed opportunity frustrated the USA, as they tried desperately to get back near the line, but continued to turn the ball over and make very costly mistakes.
After MacGinty added two more penalty goals to bring the score to 21-9 in favor of Samoa, the USA kept the pressure on in the Samoan 22. Multiple players, including MacGinty, got very close to the try line, but just couldn’t finish the play.
Injuries hampered the Eagles in this half, as lock Hayden Smith went down with an apparent shoulder injury. However, reserves like Mike Petri and Zach Test played fantastic rugby in the second half.
In the final minutes, the Eagles finally broke through, as they put a lot of bodies near the try line, and Lamositele broke through to put the USA within five points. Nearing the final horn, the Eagles desperately tried to get that tying try. They got as close as 10 meters to the line, but were called for not releasing the ball as the horn sounded.
The Eagles get back in action on Friday, July 24th against Japan.