The Eagles advanced to the Plate Final with a thrilling 21-19 comeback victory over Fiji Saturday. The Series heavyweights held a 19-7 lead and nearly put the final nail in the USA’s coffin in the first half, but the Eagles, fighting to stay clear of relegation, pulled out an instant classic.
Fiji struck first off of a switch when Colin Hawley missed a tackle within his reach and Sakiusa Gavidi Vatuinaruku took a switch pass cleanly in for a try.
Fiji gained its next scoring possession off of a knock-on by the USA. They reversed field a couple of times, slipped a couple of arm tackles and Leone Nakarawa ran in easily off of another switch.
The Eagles then showed some enterprising play of their own on their second meaningful possession of the game. With no immediate avenues in front of him near the attacking 22, Hawley booted the ball across the field for an isolated Mike Palefau, who caught the ball and scored untouched.
Colin Hawley went in the air for the next restart, and Shalom Suniula, in support, lost his footing. When Osea Kolinisau fielded the kickoff, he ran straight in for Fiji’s third try. Converted, Fiji led 19-7 at halftime.
Fiji kept up the pressure after intermission, and the Eagles nearly buckled. USA’s resilient, never-die mentality allowed the Eagles to prevent Fiji going up three possessions. They even survived Shalom Suniula throwing a pass out the back of his own try zone. Eventually, Folau Niua found his way to pay dirt to turn momentum on its head.
The Eagles continued to out-Fiji Fiji, playing creative, broken pattern rugby for long periods. The fresh legs of Luke Hume made some big contributions on the final possession, and they eventually carried him in for a nearly centered try, which Suniula converted to give the Eagles the 21-19 victory.
Awaiting the Eagles in the Plate Final is Scotland, the team the Eagles are chasing most closely in the race to avoid relegation. USA and Scotland tied 12-12 in pool play Friday. If the Eagles beat Scotland, they pull level with them in the standings with just one tournament left before the relegation competition.
Tries: Niua, Hume, Palefau
Tries: Kolinisau, Nakarawa, Vatuinaruku