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The USA U20s rode an impressive first half and sustained a bit of a comeback to beat Chile 54-25 at the World Junior Rugby Trophy Friday evening at Murray City Park Rugby Stadium in Salt Lake City.

The u20s are now 2-0 in pool play and in prime position to win their pool, and thus gain a place in the championship game June 30.

The Junior All Americans slammed the Junior Condors early thanks to dominance around the kickoffs. Chile failed to claim the opening kickoff cleanly and, under pressure, were forced to commit a penalty – fullback Madison Hughes put the kick over for an early 3-0 lead.

Moments later the USA was in the Chilean 22 again. After receiving the restart they worked their way downfield effectively. Only a knock-on in the backs kept them from scoring, but eventually a long run set up Hughes to score in the corner for an 8-0 lead.

Chile came back with a penalty for an intentional knock-on – 8-3 – but badly muffed the restart under an intense USA chase giving the Eagles some more scoring opportunities. Hughes punished another Chile penalty, and then the young Eagles blew the game open. The Chile restart wasn’t 10 meters, and from the scrum at center the USA attacked. A snappy lineout take from flanker Alex Goff set them up for a backline move, and wing Kingsley McGowan cut back and sped past some desperate tacklers.

Hughes was good with the conversion, to make it 18-3, and five minutes later, he hit a penalty, to make it 21-3. Hughes was superb in counter-attacking, too, and beat eight defenders on one run back. Only a risky offload stopped that attack, but Chile was in from the side and Hughes popped over another kick.

Chile got another long-range penalty, but were struggling against a punishing USA defense, that hit hard enough to force knock-ons, and out-rucked the South Americans.

With time winding down in the first half, the Americans seemingly put the game away. A nifty break from Magie and good runs from lock Pierce Dargan and Goff got the USA U20s on the front foot. Then some sweet ball-handling by hooker Cameron Falcon and prop Travis Whitlock set up center Tua Laei, and the young BYU Cougar took the angle and scored.

That made it 29-6.

Then with time up in the half Laei grubbered the ball through the Chilean defense and Hughes won the race to the ball and tapped it down for the try. 36-6 at halftime.

The second half revealed the USA’s youth, as, despite what any coach or player would have intended, they came out flat and looking a little as if they felt they had the game in the back. Chile, having made a few substitutions to bolster their size in the pack, had nothing to lose, and scored an early try to make it 36-13. Mario Mayol going over in the pile.

Chile went right back on the offensive as, this time, it was the USA that struggled to control the restarts. Only some exceptional defensive work from No.8 Tom O’Hara prevented another quick score.

Under plenty of pressure, the Americans calmed down somewhat, realizing they didn’t need to score a try at every touch. They did, however, struggle to get the ball quickly from ruck to the backs, and after a while Chile started to target scrumhalf Nick Boyer.

The USA scored next, however. A turnover in the Chilean 22 allowed McGowan to scamper on, and quick recycle saw the ball out to Hughes, who touched down in the corner.

Chile came right back and camped out on the USA tryline. The American defense was good, but it was only a matter of time, and Chile outside center Matias Nordenflycht raced in to make it 41-20. The USA was not out of the woods yet. And they seemed in big trouble when they committed a sloppy penalty in the Chile 22. Jose Tomas Baraona, who had shown a big boot with his penalty kicks, nailed his punt, which sailed about 80 meters to right next to the USA tryline. But the American defense was superb, driving Chile back and eventually forcing a turnover.

The Eagles attacked and eventually earned a penalty which Hughes kicked easily. 44-20.

From the turnover Hughes got a gap and broke free, seemingly to go all the way. He was, however, hauled down just short of the line, and possibly could have used some advice from his support about how close the defense was. Chile took some encouragement from that and eventually scored on the wing to make it 44-25. But that was as close as they would get.

Superb work from the forwards put sub hooker Mike Te’o and back Pasefika Iosia (both from Belmont Shore) in for tries. Iosia was electric in his work as a sub. That ended it 54-25.

Overall the USA showed they can play a wide open game. Hughes was brilliant, although not error-free, and scored 34 points on a windy day when the ball was repeatedly blown off the tee.

The USA backs were solid – outstanding in defense – while the forwards were very precise early, and let the game get a little ragged late.

Up next is Russia, which is 0-2 after losing to Chile on June 18 and Tonga Friday.

USA 54
Tries: Hughes 3, McGowan, Laei, Te’o, Iosia
Convs: Hughes 2
Pens: Hughes 5

Chile 25
Tries: Mayol, Nordenflycht, Ianiszewski
Convs: Urroz 2
Pens: Baraona 2

USA Lineup
15 Madison Hughes (Dartmouth)
14 Kingsley McGowan (St. Mary’s College of California)
13 Tanner Barnes (Central Washington)
12 Tua Laei (BYU)
11 Iniki Fa’amausili (Glendale Raptors)
10 Will Magie (Leeds University)
9 Nick Boyer (Cal)
1 Travis Whitlock (Back Bay)
2 Cameron Falcon (Louisiana State)
3 Henry Hall (Auckland University)
4 Nick Barrett (Spearhead Academy)
5 Pierce Dargan (Trinity College)
6 Aladdin Schirmer (Central Washington)
7 Alex Goff (Arkansas State)
8 Tim O’Hara (Santa Clara) 

16 Angus MacClellan (Davenport)
17 Mike Te’o (Belmont Shore)
18 Teli Veamatahau (Metropolis)
19 Glen Thommes (Delaware)
20 Alex Taefu (Tempe
21 Eakalafi Okuisi (Cal)
22 Pasefika Iosia (Belmont Shore)