The USA beat Spain 28-12 at the Wellington 7s to win their second-straight Shield and inch a little closer to ensuring they won't be relegated come the end of the season.
The Eagles tackled well and with physicality, and once again it was the younger and newer players who led the way, with a little help from Zack Test. Carlin Isles was set free in a way we've rarely seen, scoring twice to take his tournament total to six.
Things didn't look good early, as Spain exploited a couple of USA mistakes and after a long period of play, booted the ball into the cornerwhere the Americans looked too tired to chase. Francisco Hernandez did chase, and not only scored in the corner, but made the touchline conversion.
Things looked even worse when Spain grubbered through again. Isles, though, ran in, gathered the ball, and saved things. After a nice, bullocking run from Bender, the Eagles recycled and Test booted the ball deep and into touch.
It turned out to be a smart move. Spain overthrew their lineout put-in, and Barrett gathered, and sent it wide. Test fed Isles, who was caught, but Test looped around and the all-time top USA try-scorer scored another one, going wide and then curving around under the posts.
That tied the game at 7-7, and while the USA had a shot at scoring another, the half ended with the score tied.
But not for long. On the kickoff for the second half, the USA recycled quickly and sent hands out to Isles, who just curved around his defender and raced 80 meters for the try and a 14-7 lead.
Quickly it was 21-7. Bender won the restart and after a good ball rescue from Hughes, Isles fed Brett Thompson, who fended off two players and then popped the ball to a trailing Pono Haitsuka, who showed a clean pair of heels and scored under the posts.
Spain almost got a try back. A kick ahead gave them a chance and Isles chased after it. Remembering being shouldered off the ball against Canada, he looked to secure his line of run against Spain, and of course was penalized. But good, strong tackling forced a knock-on.
The Eagles could not avoid penalty trouble in the ruck, though, and after stealing a lineout throw they got pinged again, giving up a try. The conversion was crucially missed by Hernandez, however, and the score was 21-12 to the USA.
Spain were a mile offside on the restart but weren't called, however they were called later on, and that led to a USA try. After a couple of runs through contact by Nick Edwards, Isles sent a bad pass to no one. Test recovered, fed Andrew Durutalo, who fended on, ran down the wing, and then popped inside to Isles, who did the rest. The simple move of committing a defender and then actually passing to Isles - not surprisingly - worked.
That made it 28-12, and while Spain had one more shot, Durutalo stole the ball and the USA kicked the ball to touch.
Once again it's hardware for the USA. Once again it's the Shield, which is not as good as the Bowl, Plate, or Cup, but better than a sharp stick in the eye.
The performance - 2-3-1 in Wellington - was tinged with worry for fans as Isles had said he was done with rugby.
But after the game, Isles sang a different tune.
"We're pleased," said Isles. "The Shield isn't where we wanted to go but we're happy to win and we can build on it. [For me] I'm having a heck of a time. I love it and I love rugby. Of course I'm going to be in Tokyo, rugby's a blessing to me."
Tries: Isles 2, Test, Haitsuka
Convs: Hughes 3, Niua
Tries: Hernandez, Tudela