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The final match of the 2017 Americas Rugby Championship was the tournament decider. Both Argentina XV and the USA Eagles entered the match 4-0, and both were on the right side of gaudy point differentials. And the sides tied in Houston last year to open the ARC. This year’s match was another tie, 27-27. However, USA is the tournament winner via bonus points.
The match was a scrappy, intense affair, with both sides playing some good defense and making errors in attack.
Sloppy passing following a cleanly won USA lineout put the Eagles under pressure and they conceded a breakdown penalty. Argentina scored first with the Domingo Miotti penalty kick. Despite the early mistakes, there were positive signs for the Eagles as they were able to stop an early Argentina counter attack and looked organized after winning turnover possession.
Will Magie executed a nifty crossfield kick to Mike Te’o to put the Argentina defense under pressure, and that pressure resulted in a relatively central penalty. However, the decision was to kick to touch, and the lineout was lost. The Eagles were not able to turn that early spell of pressure into any points. The first USA points came from a penalty goal by Cima well on the wrong side of halfway.
Argentina managed to find gaps in the USA defense, several times near the ruck, and looked likely to score. However, a great strip of the ball in the tackle by Chris Baumann led to a long run for Nate Augspurger. Augspurger was caught short of the try line, but he managed to keep the ball alive and Magie was the first to arrive. He collected the ball and went over the try line in a manner that was in between dive and wriggle. That made the score 8-3 with ten minutes left in the half.
The Eagles had long passages of possession without breaking the defensive line. One exception to that was David Tameilau, who came on early for Siaosi Mahoni. A good run by Tameilau led to a breakdown penalty against Argentina. Magie kicked to touch, and the lineout was won cleanly. A strong USA maul powered over the try line and Tameilau emerged as the deserved try-scorer. With the conversion by Cima, the Eagles were up 15-3.
The half ended with a long period with Argentina in the USA 22. The Argentina forwards carried for several phases and were tackled just shy of the line. When the ball was passed out from the ruck, Te’o shot up, stuck his hand up and knocked the ball on. Because there were Argentina players outside of him, the referee awarded Argentina a penalty try and showed Te’o a yellow card.
That was the last action of the first half, meaning the half time score was 15-10.
The early period of the second half saw USA under more pressure. While Te’o was still off the field, Tameilau was yellow-carded for stepping on a player on the ground as he was moving away from a maul. With a two-player advantage, Argentina chose to scrum. Argentina won another penalty after the scrum and tension was building. Sebastián Cancelliere was yellow-carded, also for stepping on a player on the ground.
The Eagles were not able to move the ball out of their half, and Argentina were soon back within five meters of the try zone. A scrum following Argentina being held up in goal disintegrated and Argentina was awarded their second penalty try of the match and were into the lead 17-15 with less than 30 minutes to play.
Miotti increased the lead several minutes later with another penalty goal.
USA continued to be confident about their handling, but they struggled to keep play in the Argentina half. Eventually, replacement scrum half Lautaro Bazán Vélez made a good break and offload to get past the USA defensive line. Gabriel Ascárate finished the passage of play with a try. Miotti converted and Argentina led 27-15.
Ryan Matyas made a clear difference when he came on, and one of his runs helped to set up the next USA try. Cam Dolan ended up scoring the try, but almost every player seemed to handle the ball in the build-up as it was shifted from one side of the field to the other. The difficult conversion was missed to keep the difference 27-20 with a few minutes left.
In the last 20 minutes of play, the Eagles took the ball to the line aggressively, and in the last several minutes that tactic clearly paid off. With no time left, the USA won a penalty five meters out. They took a moment before taking the tap. The Argentina tackling was good for the first two phases, but then Tameilau received the ball at pace and burst into the try zone under the posts. The conversion was good, and the match ended 27-27.
While the draw is not an entirely satisfying result, USA did win the tournament. Further, the final match included more signs that the Eagles are making real progress.
1. Anthony Purpura 2. James Hilterbrand 3. Chris Baumann 4. Matthew Jensen 5. Siaosi Mahoni 6. John Quill 7. Tony Lamborn 8. Cameron Dolan 9. Shaun Davies 10. Will Magie 11. Nate Augspurger (C) 12. JP Eloff 13. Bryce Campbell 14. Mike Te'o 15. Ben Cima
Reserves: 16. Peter Malcolm 17. Ben Tarr 18. Olive Kilifi 19. Hanco Germishuys 20. David Tameilau 21. Calvin Whiting 22. Ryan Matyas 23. Aaron Davis
1. Francisco Ferronato 2. Gaspar Baldunciel 3. Santiago Medrano 4. Pedro Ortega 5. Ignacio Larrague 6. Francisco Gorrissen 7. Lautaro Bavaro (C) 8. Tomás de la Vega 9. Sebastián Cancelliere 10. Domingo Miotti 11. Julián Domínguez 12. Bruno Devoto 13. Santiago Álvarez 14. Germán Schulz 15. Gabriel Ascárate
Reserves: 16. Marcelo Brandi 17. Franco Brarda 18. Eduardo Bello 19. Franco Molina 20. Santiago Montagner 21. Lautaro Bazán Vélez 22. Juan Cruz González 23. Franco Cuaranta