The USA have won a crucial match at the Hong Kong 7s, beating Scotland, one of the teams they need to catch in the HSBC Sevens World Series standings, 21-12 in the Bowl Quarterfinals.
The USA dominated play for the first ten minutes and then held on to win.
Head Coach Alex Magleby made some changes for his lineup, putting Carlin Isles on the bench and starting Mike Palefau in the backs. The change works nicely, despite an iffy start. Scotland retained the ball at the beginning but lost the ball when Andrew Durutalo slapped at it in a Scotsman's hands, forcing a knock-on. However, the ensuing USA attack was halted for sealing off in the ruck, a commonplace occurrance in the tournament this year.
Frustration turned to real worry as Folau Niua then threw the ball away to prevent a Scottish quick tap. The flyhalf got a yellow card and a two-minute rest for his bad decision.
But with six men the Eagles hung in there on defense. They kept their sweeper, and trusted five players to defend seven. This they did, with Zack Test and Mike Palefau finally stopping the Scottish runner, and Test poaching the ball nicely out of the ruck.
With the ball in their 22 the Eagles started a counter. Scrumhalf Shalom Suniula got the team moving forward, and then he set free Matt Hawkins. The big prop rumbled onward, linked with Andrew Durutalo and Nick Edwards, and then got the return pass to score under the posts - a brilliant try for a shorthanded team.
Up 7-0 the USA pinned Scotland in their 22 for the remainder of the half. However, the Eagles kept botching scoring opportunities. A nifty kick ahead to Hawkins put the prop away again. He passed brilliantly inside to Edwards, but Edwards was caught by Colin Shaw, and while he could have simply laid the ball back and likely seen Hawkins pick and score, he tried to get back on his feet and was penalized.
Later on, a turnover by the Eagles seemed to set up Durutalo for a try, but he was caught and a bit of a Keystone Cops sequence let Scotland off the hook.
In the end, the USA did get their try. With time up in the first half they got a penalty, tapped quickly and sent hands out to Hawkins on the wing. The team captain wisely hit the ground early and slid over the line to score. Suniula slotted the touchline conversion to make it 14-0, and that proved crucial.
The kickoff for the second half by Scotland rolled into touch, and from the USA lineout Nick Edwards grabbed the ball and raced, untouched, 65 meters for a brilliant try. 21-0 USA.
And then the rest of the game was damage control. Scotland got a try on a lovely run from Chris Dean, but even then Luke Hume and Palefau showed plenty of effort to force him into the corner. 21-5, and Scotland still needed to score three times.
A weird bounce from the restart and some lousy tackling by the USA gifted a try to James Johnstone. Suddenly it was 21-12.
The Eagles came close to getting a try back. A kick ahead for Isles and Colin Hawley went a little too far. Luke Hume broke through and had one man to beat. He opted to grubber ahead, and was taken out (not called) so he couldn't chase.
Later on Colin Hawley chased on a kick from Hume and was taken out, with no call. Finally, with time up, the Eagles got a penalty and Hume booted it into touch and they had their victory.
The good news, then, is that the USA moves ever closer to Scotland in the standings and can, if they win the Bowl, pass the Scots. In addition, they will likely have some separation between them and Spain, as well as likely stay ahead of Portugal thanks to this one victory.
The bad news? Zack Test went down hurt late in the game and had to leave. No word on his condition.
The USA plays Hong Kong in the Bowl Semis (Hong Kong upset Argentina 7-5). The game will be played at 2:38am EDT Sunday morning, 11:38pm PDT Saturday night.
Tries: Hawkins 2, Edwards
Convs: Suniula 3
USA Starters: Hawkins, Test, Durutalo, Suniula, Niua, Palefau, Edwards
Tries: Dean, Johnston