USA Dominates Day 1
In front of a raucous home crowd, the USA Eagles came out to take on Samoa in an important match. A win here, and the Eagles will likely just need to defeat Spain tomorrow to reach the quarterfinal. But a loss will leave the Americans needing a win over AUstralia tonight to keep hopes alive. Danny Barrett bolstered American spirits with a thundering try to the right side of the post in the second minute. Folau Niua could not add the conversion, keeping Samoa uncomfortably close.
Folau Niua’s ensuing restart both failed to go ten meters and landed in touch, giving Samoa a free kick at centerfield. Samoa capitalized and scored a try from David Afamasaga. Tila Mealoi’s conversion put the Eagles behind.
Team USA worked the next possession into the Samoa twenty-two, winning a penalty twelve meters shy of the line. Off the penalty, Martin Iosefo crashed across the line for the lead. Niua’s conversion was true, returning the Americans to a five-point advantage.
To end the half, Danny Barrett found paydirt for a second time. This one coming in the left corner. Niua, working the angle and wind, drilled the conversion to end the half: USa 19, Samoa 7.
The second half started with a level of physicality not seen in the first half. The first chance at points came when Martin Iosefo drew in two Samoan defenders and tried to pass out to Perry Baker on the wing, but Baker failed to come up with it. The next shot at points came and was claimed by Ben Pinkelman with a try right by the post. Niua added the conversion to stretch the lead to 26–7 with the restart coming at under two minutes.
In the final minute, Barrett looked to make it a hat trick, but took a high tackle leading to a red card for Samoa. The Eagles kicked the penalty for touch inside the Samoa twenty-two. The lineout led to a short-arm penalty in favor of Samoa. Samoa looked like it might score an eighty-meter try, but Joe Schroeder managed to track down the runner with the aid of Carlin Isles. The tackle saved the instant try, but it did not prevent a consolation score on full-time by Samoa. Still, the result gave team USA the much-needed victory: USA 26, Samoa 12.
Following big victories in each side’s first match, team USA took on Australia. Each team is accustomed to making the quarterfinal.
The Americans stole the restart and spent the next forty seconds working the ball in organized chaos through the Australian defense before Perry Baker did what he does best, knife through a defensive line for the try line. Folau Niua added the conversion for the vital early lead.
The following restart was almost stolen by Martin Iosefo, but ended up a scrum feed for Australia instead. The Aussies won the scrum but a mishandled pass bounced into American hands moments later. The possession paid off when Martin Iosefo dove across the line right beneath the big metal H. Niua hammered the two-pointer home for a 14–0 lead a quarter way into the match.
Although the Eagles did not steal the restart, a penalty on Australia on the restart served up the same result. Niua kicked to touch just inside the Australia twenty-two. A win at the lineout gave the Eagles great attacking position. But a penalty moments later in the ruck permitted Australia to escape unscaithed. American resolve showed through as the match neared the final minute of the half with Ben Pinkelman forcing a tremendous turnover in a ruck at midfield. Niua kicked to touch at the Australian twenty-two. The lineout was perfect and the pass down the chain looked set to send Baker in for his second try of the match, but the pass to the wing was off the mark, giving Australia one last possession before the half.
The Eagles forced a turnover and looked to be backed up too deep against a flat-front defense, but Maka Unufe managed to make just enough space and force two tacklers, offloading to Martin Iosefo in support. Iosefo, for lack of space took the best option on offer and hurdled over Unufe and the two Australian tacklers on the ground then tore down the left wing before dancing around an Australian defender for a try on the left side of the post. Niua, coming through in the clutch, drilled the kick beautifully for a stunning 21–0 lead on halftime.
Reminding the world why he is the greatest rugby sevens player on the planet, Perry Baker took an inside pass at midfield and went to feast with a burst of speed unmatched on the pitch for a try under the sticks. Niua kept his strike right perfect in the match to make it 28–0.
A fifth try was narrowly avoided by Australia when Matai Leuta was pinged for a penalty at the Australian five-meter line. A mistake Leuta could and should have avoided by offloading to Carlin Isles in support. Despite Australia looking momentarily like it would go the other way for 95 meters, a penalty at the Australian ten-meter line gave the ball back to the United States.
Australia’s defense stood strong and the offense eventually worked down the pitch for a methodical try with Dylan Pietsch being the one to strike paydirt. Tom Lucas added the conversion. But, down 21 points and a minute left for the restart, Australia was in a tough spot.
The spot became even tough when Australia’s restart kick did not go ten-meters. The Eagles took the free kick and looked to add one more score before full time. Joe Schroeder’s attempt to break through in front of the post did not yield points, but there was nothing Australia could do to stave off defeat. As the final whistle blew it was USA 28, Australia 7.
The victory assures the United States the top spot in the pool and a likely birth against the loser of England vs. South Africa tomorrow. The Americans will be in a position to rest its best players while the loser of England South Africa will have had to leave everything on the pitch in the first match of the day.