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The USA ended pool play at the Hong Kong 7s with a 24-12 loss to New Zealand in a game they could have won.
Both teams made some changes for the game. New Zealand Head Coach Gordon
Tietjens rested several regular starters for the match, knowing his All
Blacks Sevens had already made the Cup Quarters.
Meanwhile Eagles Head Coach Alex Magleby started Folau Niua, who hadn't started the previous game, in place of Colin Hawley, and
The Eagles won the kickoff nicely and made a half-break from Niua, but Nick Edwards was penalized for sealing off in the ruck, reversing a promising first few seconds.
The Eagles got the ball back, however, as Lote Raikabula took a run down the wing he was caught by captain Matt Hawkins, who forced a loose pass that the Americans gathered in. From there Niua sent a long kick for Carlin Isles to chase. Isles didn't get the ball but he did force a scrum, and off the USA went again.
Once more the USA players showed a maddening habit of not passing to Isles when he had space. Still, Isles was there to ruck over Niua, the ball got to Edwards, who broke one tackle and then offloaded to Hawkins for the try and a 5-0 lead.
New Zealand replied almost instantly, retaining the restart and seeing Ben Lam skate wide and open up a gap for himself, diving over just ahead of Isles. 7-5 New Zealand.
Lam powered through an Isles tackle attempt and looked away later, but Zack Test made the tackle, dragging Lam into touch. Trinity Spooner-Neera threw the ball away to prevent a quick throw-in, and got a yellow card for his sins, and the Eagles got a break.
Still no pass to Isles. He was skipped in favor of Hawkins in one movement, and then Zack Test was of two minds and sent a pass between Isles and Hawkins. With time up in the first half, though, New Zealand was penalized for sealing off, and the Edwards-Hawkins combo worked again, with Edwards making the half-break, and then offloaded to Hawkins for his 50th World Series try.
Salom Suniula, who is back starting in Hong Kong after almost three tournaments as a sub, hit the difficult conversion to make it 12-7 at halftime.
Hawkins urged his players to stay calm and not get emotional with the lead.
The USA won the restart, but were hurt by a couple of referee whistles. First, referee Kevin White blew his whistle for a USA penalty as Isles was picking up the ball to run weak. Then he called back a perfectly acceptable quick tap to get it closer to the mark. Nad finally he penalized Test for sealing off when Test's body position was not illegal by any stretch of the imagination.
The calls probably cost the USA a try, and certainly right after New Zealand scored, patiently working the ball and recycling severasl times before scoring in the corner.
Now the subs came on, and once again the USA was penalized for sealing off, and the more experienced New Zealand put the game away.
After Test stole the ball in the ruck he held on in the next ruck. Tim Mikkelson broke away and fed Rocky Khan for the try that put New Zealand in the lead 17-12.
Then a weird play. The USA had the ball and were working it upfield, still with a shot to win it. But a loose pass allowed New Zealand to kick ahead. The ball rolled into in-goal. Brett Thompson tried to boot the ball dead, and Gillie Kaka of New Zealand clearly knocked the ball on as he fell on it. Still, try given, 24-12 final score.
New Zealand win Pool B and will face Samoa in the Cup Quarterfinals, while the USA finish 0-3, all three games close, and face Scotland in the Bowl Quarterfinals. This is a crucial match because these two teams are very close in the World Series standings.
It was a slightly unfair result for the Eagles, but it's worth noting that Carlin Isles, their most dangerous player, was not passed to one single time. One kick for him to chase, and he touched the ball a couple of times as a scrumhalf, but no one passed to him.
Tries: Hawkins 2
Starters: Hawkins, Test, Durutalo, Suniula, Niua, Edwards, Isles
New Zealand 24
Tries: Spooner-Neera, Lam, Khan, Kaka
Convs: Khan 2