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Ian Muir photo

Team USA opened and closed regulation time well in the semifinals Sunday in Hong Kong, but the middle bit is where things got away from the Eagles. They scored first, then conceded 24-straight points before mounting a comeback to force overtime, losing in the sudden death period, 29-24.

South Africa won the first possession of the game, but a big hit by Danny Barrett dislodged the ball and turned it over. A couple of phases later and it was Perry Baker taking contact and offloading to Madison Hughes for the first try. Hughes converted, so it was 7-0.

The Series leaders leveled the table calmly, with Cecil Afrika setting up the try by taking on Barrett and offloading to Siviwe Soyizwape, who ran in for the score. The Blitzbokke were helped in the process by a penalty in the breakdown on Andrew Durutalo.

South Africa doubled up on tries when Baker dropped a pass deep in the American end. Barrett went off with an injury simultaneously, and Hughes was harshly pinged for being offside in the subsequent scrum, helping the Blitzbokke extend the lead to 12-7.

The Eagles won the ensuing restart with Durutalo lifting Stephen Tomasin. However, the referee didn’t like the way Tomasin was brought back down in a forward direction, penalizing the Americans and gifting a prime scoring platform to the South Africans. They broke through for a third-straight try after yet another penalty was levied against the USA, taking a 19-7 lead into halftime.

Soyizwape extended the difference early in the second half when a grubber was laid out for him. Folau Niua pressured, so Soyizwapi chipped it ahead again and dotted down. The conversion was missed, making it 24-7 with five minutes to go.

The Eagles responded with a similar score. Hughes put the grubber through and Iosefo collected the ball on a sprint and scored. The conversion was missed, but the difference was now manageable with three minutes to play.

Baker added another very quickly, hurdling over Maka Unufe to take an offload after Unufe had made a miniature line break. The conversion was good, making it 24-19 with a minute-and-a-half to play.

South Africa won the restart, but a rare drop from Afrika and a knock-on seconds later gave the USA a midfield scrum with 45 seconds left. Thanks largely to a burst from Tomasin, Baker was set free toward the corner to tie the game. Madison Hughes then lined up a touch-line conversion attempt to potentially win the game, but it missed, forcing overtime.

The Eagles won the kickoff and worked down the field, but Iosefo threw a wayward forward pass to Tomasin, giving the ball away. Hughes was called offside in the scrum, adding another penalty to the lopsided count. Afrika created some chaos with a dummy outside and cut back inside, and Ruan Nell would gas through a gap and take the win.