The Eagles fell 30-10 to Italy Saturday in front of a record crowd at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. 17, 214 reported as the official attendance, Saturday’s match became the most attended domestic test match on record.
The weather was hot and humid, and the players were hit hard by the conditions late, many felled by cramps. That, plus referee Jerome Garces's officiating made for a stop-start end to the game in front of a crowd that deserved better.
Italy attacked the Eagles in the set pieces, as expected, and scored their first try after Chris Biller misfired long on a lineout at USA’s defending five-meter line. Todd Clever nearly secured the ball, but Italy hooker Carlo Festuccio beat him to it and dove in for the opening score. Converted, it put Italy up 7-0.
The Eagles went on the offensive when Mike Petri deftly blocked an Italian grubber to turnover possession. Effective go-forward ball from Shawn Pittman, Scott Lavalla and Chris Biller put pressure on Italy, and the Eagles were awarded with a penalty. Chris Wyles converted the opportunity into points.
Andrew Suniula was pinged for obstruction on the restart, and Italy’s Riccardo Bocchino put the visitors back out 10 with a successful shot at goal.
Italy returned the favor on the next kickoff, committing an offside penalty. Wyles tried to make them pay from nearly midfield, but was out of his range, and the kick fell short and dribbled into the try zone.
The Americans tried to get quick ball going all game, but Italy occupied the tackled American ballcarriers long enough to get their defense set. When the Eagles did get some offensive continuity, they stubbed their own toes. On one occasion, Eric Fry knocked on in the attacking third of the field, and on another Petri box kicked straight into touch.
USA got a break when a poor Italian kick landed in a pack of blue-shirted forwards, drawing an offside call. On the ensuing possession, Roland Suniula threw a nice dummy and opened a hole for Paul Emerick. The flyhalf made the offload, putting Emerick through in the corner. Wyles hit the difficult conversion to level the score at 10-10.
The Eagles conceded another penalty in the 31st minute, and Italy slotted it to regain the lead at 13-10.
The visitors knocked on the ensuing kickoff, but it was wheeled, and Italy picked up the ball and raced more than 50 meters ending in a Gori Edoardo try, which converted, extended their lead to 20-10. That’s how the half would end.
With two tries from poor setpieces being the difference, the Eagles could feel good about open play coming into the second stanza, but the tide turned quickly in the 44th minute. Andrew Suniula knocked on, and with Italy playing advantage, he drilled Bocchino after he passed the ball, garnering a red card. Bocchino recovered and hit the kick, extending Italy’s lead to 23-10.
The Eagles kept battling and, on a few occasions, threatened the Italian try line. But they were stymied by more ball-killing from Italy and more mistakes. Wyles had a shot to bring the USA back to within 10 with a shot at goal, but the kick was missed.
In the 66th minute, after a long Italian line break, Paul Emerick led with his elbow and whacked a ball-less Italian, garnering USA’s second red card of the game. Down to 13 men, the Eagles conceded an inevitable try in the match’s final three minutes, but garnered plenty of good feeling from the crowd for battling until the end despite being so shorthanded.
Tries: Festuccio, Edoardo, Burton
Convs: Bocchino 3
Pens: Bocchino 3