Written by Alex Goff    Saturday, 17 November 2012 15:14    PDF Print Write e-mail
USA Gifts Victory to Tonga
National Teams - USA Men

Tonga got a late try to seal a tense victory, 22-13, over the USA in the IRB International Series at Colwyn Bay, Wales Saturday.

Todd Clever was outstanding Saturday against Tonga. Ian Muir photo.
Fewer offloads from the tackle this week for the USA, but this one from Chris Biller was impressive. Ian Muir photo.
Luke Hume was a constant danger on offense. Ian Muir photo.
Battling for honors as the best of the Americans, Scott LaValla. Ian Muir photo.
The USA defense did give up three tries, but two were thanks to turnovers. Ian Muir photo.
The USA seemed to have the game in hand early in the second half, but a series of shoddy errors and a drifting away from their game plan eventually gift-wrapped a victory for the Sea Eagles.

The game didn’t start well for the United States. Tonga showcased some impressive offloads out of the tackle and fullback Vungakoto Lilo dove over in the corner. That seemed to harbinger a long night for the USA, but after that the American defense held firm.

On offense, the USA had the ball and some chances, but their kicking for territory was a tad aimless, and a few passes didn’t quite go to hand.

As the half wore on, though, the USA found that their pick-and-go game was causing Tonga problems. Center Paul Emerick got in on the action a few times, as he joined the forwards in going vertical. Even when the Eagles lost lock Brian Doyle after 17 minutes to an apparent shoulder injury, they seemed to have control.

Struggling in the scrum, the USA looked superb in the lineout, so much so that Tonga looked worried when they had the throw. With the USA throwing in, they had so many weapons, they didn’t need Todd Clever to jump, and inserted him at center instead.

Out wide Luke Hume was the one player to consistently make Tonga miss. And he looked like he scored after a long period of USA time in the Tongan 22. But that try was called back for a forward pass.

Hume was involved later, also, as his dancing run set up a run by Zach Pangelinan, who lofted a cute chip kick that would have set up a try had he been able to catch it. The Americans kept up the pressure, but took perhaps one too many forward surges to the line, and couldn’t get it over.

In the end, Tonga committed a penalty, and Pangelinan made it 5-3, but it had taken a good 20 minutes in the Tonga red zone to garner a mere three points.

The Americans went back on the attack soon thereafter after flanker Scott LaValla made a superb play to catch a Tonga kick. Scrumhalf Robbie Shaw grubbered through and after what seemed like a thousand phases, where the Americans were on the line, then driven back, the try finally came. Emerick picked quickly from a ruck and raced through. He offloaded to center partner Andrew Suniula, who was dragged down just short of the line. But Shaw was there and Suniula popped the ball up to the scrumhalf for the try.

10-5 USA, and that’s how the half ended.

The second half looked like one the USA could own. They defended brilliantly against Tonga, and forced some turnovers. Then a brilliant grubber kick along the sideline by flyhalf Toby L’Estrange put them back on the front foot. Tonga tried to get cute with their lineout and the ball went straight to Todd Clever. He was stopped just short, and from the ensuing scrum, the Eagles got a free kick.

Here was a crucial decision. The Americans had been struggling to get good ball from the scrum and seemingly would have been much better off just tapping and running with the forwards. Still, the Eagles won the scrum and attacked right, where Tonga flyhalf Fangatapu Apikotoa deliberately smacked the ball down. Apikotoa got a yellow card for his pains, and the USA, so close once again to a try, settled for a Pangelinan penalty. 13-5.

After that, it seemed like the Eagles thought that was enough. The urgency left the play of some players, and they started dropping the ball. Lou Stanfill had the restart bounce off his shoulder, and after Emerick was penalized for offside, Lilo kicked a penalty to make it 13-8. The Eagles would not only end the Apikotoa sin-binning without scoring more points than Tonga, they didn’t even look close to scoring, other than on the drive leading to a Pangelinan penalty.

LaValla won the next restart in the air for the USA, but Chris Biller was guilty of looking at the rushing defense, not the ball, and dropped the rock. Tonga kept getting the ball back, and the USA started committing penalties.

Some dogged USA defense stopped a lineout and drive by Tonga, but eventually the Sea Eagles got what they wanted. Scrumhalf Taniela Moa saw a gap and a good matchup and set off downfield. He linked with Lilo, who stomped through an Emerick tackle attempted before offloading inside to lock Joe Tu’ineau. With the conversion Tonga now led 15-13.

The Eagles had plenty of time – 18 minutes or so – and plenty of ball, but somehow couldn’t get much going. They started taking the ball flat-footed, and not challenging the Tonga rush defense. They got away from the quick pick-and-go’s, and also stopped kicking for territory. It was 2011 all over again for a frustrating quarter of an hour.

That approach ends up leading to turnovers or penalties, and that’s just what happened. With the game still in the balance, Tonga turned the ball over, and a nifty between-the-legs pass and some less-than-stellar tackling by the USA saw center Sione Piukala race in for the killer blow.

Down now 22-13, the USA had enough time again, but a forward pass, then a kick out on the full, and other mistakes doomed them. Hume made a long run near the end of the game, but there were too many Tongans and not enough Americans to help him, and the game ended.

For the United States, this was an improved performance over a very good Tonga team. Todd Clever and Scott LaValla were brilliant, while Hume showed tremendous attacking flair. In his debut, Zach Pangelinan did well, although the physicality of the Tongan tackling had to be a wakeup call for him. The USA tight five was good, but only Hume, Clever and LaValla were consistently good through the whole game. The Eagles had three occasions in the first half and one in the second half when they were a meter away from a try. They came away from those efforts with one try, and two penalties, and it was that, along with some key execution errors in the second half, that denied them victory.

Clever said that the pick-and-go offense was called on the fly as a response to the Tonga blitz defense.

“We backed our forwards to make the gain line,” he said. “I am pleased with what we did and fine tuning and capitalizing on their errors and a couple of times we didn’t do it, and it cost us the game.”

Tonga 22
Tries: Lilo, Tu’ineau, Piukala
Convs: Apikotoa 2
Pens: Lilo

USA 13
Tries: Shaw
Convs: Pangelinan
Pens: Pangelinan 2

USA Lineup




























































Basauri for Doyle at 17



Dahl for Quill at 56



Petri for Shaw at 66



Suniula for Emerick at 66




Tonga Lineup

1 Alisona Taumalolo
2 Elvis Taione
3 Halani ’Aulika
4 Joe Tu’ineau
5 Tukulua Lokotui
6 Sitiveni Mafi
7 Nili Latu (C)
8 Viliami Ma’afu
9 Taniela Moa
10 Fangatapu ’Apikotoa
11 Fetu’u Vainikolo
12 Sione Piukala
13 Sukanaivalu Hufanga
14 Will HeluFasi
15 Vungakoto Lilo

16 Ilaisa Ma’asi
17 Kisi Pulu
Tevita Mailau
19 Hale T Pole
20 Josh Afu
21 Viliame ’long
22 Eddie Paea
23 Alipate Fatafehi