The Eagles fumbled their way to their first win of the season against Tonga Saturday, 14-7. They couldn’t get out of their way in the first half, but managed two tries in the second to pull out the victory.
After taking possession off the kickoff, the Americans nearly scored twice, but both threats were ended by knock-ons. Tonga won its five-meter scrum, but got tackled by Test in the try zone, giving the Eagles an attacking five-meter scrum.
The Eagles won the scrum, and Tonga was pinged for a penalty, giving the USA a tap-and-go opportunity from point-blank distance, which almost always equates to a try, but there was yet another knock on. Tonga then cleared its line with a kick, the Eagles got back inside the 22, and then knocked the ball on again.
On the next possession, Tonga took the ball 80 meters for a try. So the Eagles spent the first five minutes of the game in the attacking end, but four knocks left them without reward.
Tonga didn’t cleanly kick the restart, and the Eagles took over with a free kick at midfield. Like they had multiple times before on the day, they kicked the ball away and failed to get it back, leaving them down 7-0 at intermission.
After Tonga was pinged for a penalty for a dangerous tackle on Nick Edwards, the Eagles went wide to Test, who got around the corner and dotted down. Niua hit a difficult conversion to draw the score level.
The USA got their first lead of the tournament after Niua took the ball into contact, and Miles Craigwell, who had come on for Blair, saw space just off the ruck. He picked and ran in under the posts easily. Niua converted to give the USA its winning margin.
In a game where the Eagles made 36 passes to Tonga’s 12, and made four forays into the attacking 22, compared to Tonga’s one, they nearly lost the game. On a couple of those trips to the attacking end the Eagles had multiple possessions, so they really had something more like seven or eight possessions in scoring position.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t hold onto the ball in the first two games, and that was the difference,” said player-coach Matt Hawkins. “When we did hold onto the ball we looked dangerous.”
Outscored 76-19 on day one, with just one of those tries coming from a starter, the Eagles finished third in their pool and will play at 7:30pm CST in the Bowl Quarterfinals. If they win there, they’ll play at 11:20pm CST in the Bowl Semifinals. If they lose in the Bowl Quarters, they’ll play at 10:36pm CST in the Shield Semifinals.
Prop: Pat Blair
Hooker: Brett Thompson
Prop: Matt Hawkins
Scrumhalf: Stephen Tomasin
Flyhalf: Folau Niua
Center: Zack Test
Wing: Nick Edwards
Tries: Craigwell, Test
Cons: Niua (2)