USA undefeated with eyes on the Cup
In a match just for pride, team USA stole the opening kick and put the first points on the board a mere 27 seconds in as Folau Niua slipped by defenders for a try beneath the posts. He converted his own try with ease. Niua’s restart kick, however, did not go ten meters, gifting Spain an opportunity to tie things up. But sloppy ball carrying from Spain gave the ball to the Eagles deep in American territory. Following a penalty and a cracking run down the right wing by Danny Barrett, the Eagles added a second try, this time from Joe Schroeder earning his first start since the Sydney bronze-medal match. Niua added the conversion for a 14–0 lead.
But, as was the case after the previous score, Niua’s usually sure restart was off and went directly to touch. Once more facing a Spanish free-kick, the American defense was back on its heels. This time, the eagles could not hold Spain scoreless, conceding a try in the right corner when Schroeder was just barely beaten to the loose ball in the tryzone.
Spain quickly added a second through Francisco Hernandez when the Spanish found space on the left wing. Hernandez’s conversion made the match uncomfortably close for the partisan crowd at 14–12. But Maka Unufe’s eighty meter try and Niua’s tenth consecutive made conversion of the tournament put the lead back to two scores. At halftime.
As the first half came to a close, Coach Friday began to sub off some of his more frequent starters, already having opted to go with Joe Schroeder and Cody Melphy in the starting lineup. The second half started with Maka Unufe, Perry Baker, and Danny Barrett each earning rest. In their places were Malon Aljiboori, Martin Iosefo, and Carlin Isles. Still, captain Ben Pinkelman and Folau Niua remained in the match.
The Eagles did not look quite as crisp in the second half, but even a slightly dull team USA still has Carlin Isles to sprint past everyone in the sport, which he did to extend the lead to 28–12. The conversion, surprisingly enough, was successfully taken by Isles for his first career conversion on the Series.
On full time, Spain managed a consolation score through Inaki Villanueva. The points did not alter the score or the path of the tournament. The problem for team USA, however, is that Joe Schroeder went down with an apparent right shoulder injury, which may well leave the United States needing to call in their thirteenth: USA 28, Spain 17.
The United States charged onto the field looking for a fourth-consecutive semifinal appearance in Vegas. Unfortunately, the Eagles would have to do it without JOe Schroeder whose shoulder injury against Spain ended his tournament. Chris Mattina stepped in on the bench and Matai Leuta got the start.
A minute into the match, the United States had charged hard into the England half but surrendered a penalty. The Eagles wasted little time, however, before getting a penalty in their favor to regain possession while still in the England half. But fifty seconds later, yet another penalty at the break down was blown and England had the ball back, though still inside its own twenty-two. But again, the flow of play was stopped with a quick penalty, this time going the way of team USA. That penalty saw the Eagles finally get to the England five-meter line, where yet another penalty gave team USA exactly what it needed: a wide-open, unmarked Perry Baker for the try. Folau Niua’s kick was just off the market.
Up 5–0 with 2:30 remaining in the half, England won the restart and tried to exploit the American defense that had heavily committed to teh attempt to steal the restart. England got inside the USA twenty-two where Folau Niua and Ben Pinkelman combined for a world-class turnover and pass out to the wing to who else? Why Perry Baker of course, who found the England defense quickly in his rearview mirror and the ball under the post in the blink of an eye. Niua added the two points then stepped back for the perfect restart kick, giving Danny Barrett the opportunity to slap it back to his side.
Everything looked to be going the United States’ way, but yet another penalty was called at the England twenty-two and England was able to get a five-pointer of its own on the stroke of halftime through Oliver Lindsay-Hague. Still, with the missed conversion, it was the United States 12, England 5 with the two-minute break.
Niua’s second half kick was again, slapped back by Barrett, but Baker was unable to come up with it. Still, despite England collecting the untidy ball, the Eagles soon forced a turnover and continued the attack in the English half. The position was used to full advantage when Perry Baker shook a tackler and scored in the right corner. Niua’s conversion was well astray, but his team was not with a 17–5 lead heading to the under-five-minute mark.
England took the restart and Dan Norton pulled England back within one score with his try in the right corner. The conversion cut the lead to a mere five points with three minutes to go.
England’s restart kick was carried by the wind and bounced into touch just short of the American twenty-two. With the crowd chanting for its home team, Niua threw the lineout and gave his squad a chance to stretch the lead. Kevon Williams tried to do just that on the right side of the pitch but was bottled up, and taken into a maul, unable to get to ground. England easily won the scrum and had a minute and a half to try and make the USA pay. A chip through the defense by Dan Norton came a friendly bounce away from doing just that. Instead, it bounced to American captain Ben Pinkelman. But the Eagles gave England another go at it with a penalty just short of midfield and forty seconds remaining.
With everything left to play for, England tried to connect with Ethan Waddleton to Dan Norton on the wing, but the pass went to touch. With only twelve seconds left, the United States had a lineout throw, just outside its own ten-meter. The eagles won the throw and then Maka Unufe tried to make for the line. He was tackled short with dangerously little support. Thankfully a penalty against England ensured that the United States was holding the ball with no time on the clock and a 17–12 lead.
Semifinals, lookout! The Eagles are flying high in Las Vegas.
In a rematch of the Sydney quarterfinal, team USA will look to repeat the success they’ve had in recent years against one of the best teams in the world. A win would send the United States to a fourth-ever finals appearance and first-ever at the USA Sevens.
Danny Barrett got his hands on the opening kick and almost came away with the steal, but lost it forward in the process. Fiji’s Alasio Sovita Naduva turned on the jets and looked to be gone down the right touchline. Naduva was fast, but Perry Baker was faster, dragging him to touch just outside the USA five-meter line. The Eagles won the lineout and then earned a penalty in the middle of the field seven meters from their own try line. Folau Niua kicked the ball to touch, gaining twenty meters in the process.
The Eagles again won the throw and garnered a penalty in the process. Niua’s kick to touch took the Americans inside the Fijian half. The attack finally ended when Ben Pinkelman’s pass to Danny Barrett on the outside went forward as a result of a tackle.
Shortly after the scrum, Fiji won a penalty and kicked to touch at midfield. That possession was the one that finally took the goose eggs of the board as Sevuloni Mocenacagi stiff armed Martin Iosefo and ran forty meters for the try under the post. Vatemo Ravouvou added the conversion, sending the United States to a 7–0 deficit.
The Americans came painfully close to tying it up at the end of the half with possession inside the Fiji twenty-two. The Fijians were disorganized as the ball was loose on the deck, knocked back by Fiji. Ben Pinkelman tried to scoop it up and hit Barrett on the outside for the score, but Pinkelman just knocked the ball forward in the process, ending the half with Fiji ahead.
The second half started with Fiji contesting the restart, but knocking it on. The United States was then backed up deep, but eventually got the ball out to Perry Baker on the left wing. Baker was forced back into his own goal, but still managed to dance around three defenders, explode through a sliver of daylight and go one meters for the score under the post. Niua tied it up with the conversion.
The restart came with 4:37 left in the match. Martin Iosefo perfectly snagged the restart kick. The ball worked back inside to Niua who forced an opening with an offload attempt to Maka Unufe in support. The offload was a hair too low for Unufe, leading to a Fiji scrum instead of a try. Fiji won the scrum but a pass to the center standing on the five-meter line was dropped, giving the Eagles an attacking scrum five meters out.
The scrum did not lead to points because the Fijian defense swarmed and forced the Americans to retreat. But a well-timed penalty sent a Fijian to the bin and moments later watched Matai Leuta in for the try. Niua’s conversion crossed the bar at 2:10 left.
Up 14–7, the United States kicked the restart with 1:38 left. Baker got a hand on the restart, but could not bring it in. The Americans forced a turnover at centerfield and soon got the Perry Baker try in the corner from none other than Perry Baker. Of serious concern was that Maka Unufe remained on the deck after the play and came off with an apparent lower-leg injury. Niua could not add the conversion, but the United States remained in front 19–7 with 29 seconds left in the match.
As the hooter sounded, Fiji had the ball, but the USA had the lead. Fiji tried to get the consolation score, but Niua had none of it, tackling him into touch. USA 19, Fiji 7. The result sends the United States to its fourth-ever final and first on home soil.
The United States will close the tournament at 4:30 (PT) against Argentina. Fiji will face the loser of that match for the bronze medal at 4:00 (PT).