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The United States played Canada to a 28-28 draw in the first leg of World Cup Qualification in Hamilton, Ontario. The Eagles squandered a 10 point lead late in the match and barely came away unbeaten as they head to San Diego for the second leg of the qualifier next weekend.
Canada opened the game on the front foot, camped in United States territory. The Maple Leafs missed a penalty early in the game but got on the board first through D.T.H. van der Merwe. The home side spun the ball wide right and winger escaped a tackle from Nate Augspurger down the sideline. He popped it back inside to van der Merwe for a 7-0 lead.
The Canadian lead did not last for very long, however, as Canada mishandled the restart deep in its own territory. Marcel Brache pounced on the ball just inside the 22-meter line and carried a defender inside the five-meter area before offloading to Nic Civetta. The big lock rumbled in to tie the game with a try next to the posts.
Canada reasserted itself after the score and dominated play for the next 20 minutes. Van der Merwe got his second of the game, and in doing so broke the all time try record for Canada. The center opportunistically picked at the base of a ruck and sprinted through the defense and into the corner. Matai Leuta made a great effort, forced a TMO replay, but the try was ultimately awarded.
Canada camped in Eagle territory but did not take full advantage. The Maple Leafs managed a penalty to extend the lead to 15-7 but in the final 10 minutes momentum shifted back to the United States.
The United States got on the front foot and earned a penalty at the Canada 22. Rather than take the points, the Eagles elected to kick for the corner. The risky move paid dividends as Todd Clever broke through a maul to the goal line. Civetta picked for his second score of the game.
With the score 15-14 with two minutes remaining in the half, Canada was driving deep in US territory. The Eagles turned it over, however, and AJ MacGinty chipped a kick forward that was fielded by Mike Te’o. The winger passed it back inside to Augspurger who kicked it forward directly from the pass. He fielded his own kick and the Eagles worked their way to the goal line. With advantage, the ball worked its way back wide to Te’o who scored right on halftime to take a 21-15 lead into the break.
Discipline plagued the Eagles early in the second half. Canada converted a penalty that saw James Hilterbrand go to the sin bin but was unable to take advantage of the man advantage.
The Maple Leafs were in prime position to score minutes later but Te’o intercepted a pass deep inside the Eagle 22 and sprinted 85 meters for a try and a 28-21 lead.
Penalties continued to hamper the Eagles as Cam Dolan was sent to the bin for collapsing a maul inside the Eagle five-meter line. The home side failed to capitalize on the penalty and the subsequent man advantage despite several costly Eagle mistakes.
After the Eagles won a lineout just outside their 22, a pass went off several Eagle hands and Canada counter attacked. The ball went wide and it looked as if Canada had scored but on review the ball slipped out of the hands of the Canadian player as he attempted to ground the ball and the try was disallowed.
It looked as though the Eagles would escape the first leg of the series with a victory on the road but van der Merwe managed slip through a gap and sprint to the corner. Augspurger made a tremendous try saving tackle but the Maple Leafs probed side to side and eventually Aaron Carpenter outflanked the defense for a score in the corner. The tough conversion was nailed and it was 28-25 with seven minutes to play.
Canada continued to apply pressure on the Eagles as Carpenter picked off the back of a scrum near midfield, busting through a few tackles down to the five-meter line. The Eagles defended desperately on the goal line, eventually conceding a penalty. Canada opted for points under the posts to tie the game at 28.
With two minutes to play the Eagles entered Canadian territory and set up MacGinty for a drop goal opportunity. The flyhalf hooked the kick left and the score remained level.
Canada had one more opportunity in attacking territory and the referee penalized the Eagles about 42 meters from goal. Canada attempted a kick at the death but the kick floated just wide and the game ended 28-28.
The teams will meet in San Diego next Saturday for the second leg of the World Cup Qualifier. The winner of the match will book their ticket to Rugby World Cup 2019.