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Playing in San Sebastian, Spain at Estadio Anoeta, Tonga took an early lead and was able to hang on in the second half to defeat the USA Eagles, 20-17.
In an echo of last week’s match against Romania, the Eagles started slowly and, despite “winning” the second half, could not overcome that slow start.
There were plenty of signs of worry for the Eagles early as poor territorial kicking gave Tonga possession inside the USA half. Tonga was immediately over the gainline from the match’s first scrum.
Tonga kept the pressure on USA for the first 10 minutes of the match. The Eagles had two opportunities to clear from lineouts, but play never left the USA half. Eventually, Telusa Veainu scored the first try. Veainu stepped well after receiving the ball from Tevita Koloamatangi from the back of a clean scrum.
11 minutes into the match, it was 7-0 with Tonga in the lead.
A few minutes later, the Eagles won a penalty from a Tonga scrum, which gave Will Holder the chance to kick the USA into the Tonga 22. A good maul was rewarded with a penalty, and captain Blaine Scully chose the penalty goal attempt. Holder kicked it over to make it 7-3.
The Eagles struggled to move forward in attack, while Tonga crossed the gainline with relative ease.
The next try was another for Tonga and seemed to come from nothing. From a lineout inside their own half, Jack Ram burst from the maul and made an excellent offload to Fetu'u Vainikolo who scored the try.
After 22 minutes, it was 14-3 with Tonga in the lead.
It was then the Eagles’ turn to build some pressure. After three lineouts inside Tonga’s half, Nate Augspurger took advantage of a ruck that turned messy. He darted forward before passing to Martin Iosefo who scored the try.
Holder converted the try to make it 14-10.
Tonga added three more points just before halftime from a relatively soft penalty. Nick Civetta was retreating and could not get out of the way. Part of the reason Tonga was in a good position when the penalty was called was another poor exit from the restart by USA.
Down seven to start the second half, USA looked much sharper in attack. There was a shift in strategy, and the Eagles started to run the ball more from their own half.
Still, there were plenty of mistakes that kept the match in Tonga’s control. For instance, the Eagles won a penalty at the breakdown inside their own 22. Augspurger took the penalty quickly, but the ball ended up bouncing around and USA ended up under more pressure instead of relieving pressure.
Tony Lamborn and Andrew Durutalo both had good matches and the Eagles were much more successful at the breakdown than last weekend against Romania. Samu Manoa also had a positive impact.
The first points in the second half were by USA. From a lineout 20 meters out, Manoa gave a late, and good, pass to Blaine Scully who charged over the gainline. One the next phase, the ball went to Joe Taufete’e who was able to stretch over and get the try.
Two minutes into the second half, it was tied 17-17.
USA had several good passages of attack, but none produced points. Matai Leuta had a strong performance when he was bough into the match.
It was Tonga who scored the next, and final points. Sonatane Takulua kicked over a penalty from a handy position.
The score was 20-17 heading into the final quarter.
The Eagles did play 10 minutes with a man-advantage, but could not exploit the advantage.
A final chance for the Eagles after full time looked promising, but ended when a pass went to a Tongan instead of USA hands.
Final score 20-17. The Eagles finish November 0-3.
1. Joe Taufete'e 2. James Hilterbrand 3. Chris Baumann 4. Cameron Dolan 5. Nick Civetta 6. Samu Manoa 7. Tony Lamborn 8. Andrew Durutalo 9. Nate Augspurger 10. Will Holder 11. Martin Iosefo 12. Marcel Brache 13. Thretton Palamo 14. Blaine Scully (C) 15. Madison Hughes
16. Pat Blair 17. Angus MacLellan 18. Dino Waldren 19. Al McFarland 20. Langilangi Haupeakui 21. Mike Te'o 22. Matai Leuta 23. JP Eloff
1. Tevita Mailau 2. Paula Ngauamo 3. Siua Halanukonuka 4. Steve Mafi 5. Joe Tu'ineau 6. Dan Faleafa 7. Jack Ram 8. Tevita Koloamatangi 9. Sonatane Takulua 10. Kali Hala 11. Fetu'u Vainikolo 12. Latiume Fosita 13. Siale Piutau (C) 14. Nafi Tu'itavake 15. Telusa Veainu
16. Elvis Taione 17. Paea Fa'anunu 18. Sila Puafisi 19. Valentino Mapapalangi 20. Kotoni Ale 21. Tomasi Palu 22. Tevita Taufui 23. David Halaifonua