The USA were just edged 14-12 by a strong Samoa team in the final round of pool play at the Nelson Mandela Bay 7s in Port Elizabeth, South Africa Friday.
Samoa scored the opening try from the kickoff, and that proved the difference.
The ball bounced around off hands and heads and ended up in Samoa hands. Samoa pressed into the 22, and worked left then right, until Afa Aiono got the ball on the wing and he went through a poor Mark Bokhoven tackle attempt to score and give Samoa a 7-0 lead.
Try number two came off a penalty. Mike Palefau was called for holding on, rightly, and Samoa quickly exploited the space available to score and make it 14-0.
And it seemed like it would be 21-0 soon as Matt Hawkins stepped on the sideline as he tried to gather in the restart. But some good defense from Bokhoven, who tackled and poached right at the tryline, got the ball in USA hands. The Eagles then attacked from their own tryline. Bokhoven made the first big break and then fed Nick Edwards, who went into contact but kept going forward. A series of phases got the USA a little closer, and then Edwards cut back through traffic to score under the posts.
That was a significant turnaround for the USA, and Shalom Suniula’s conversion made it 14-7. Suniula was in the play again moments later. With the hooter gone in the first half, Suniula was the only defender between Samoa and another tryline. As he raced to the corner to stop the Samoan runner, he got that just was his opponent kicked ahead. It was a gutsy play by the USA captain, and saved a try.
USA Head Coach made the substitutions at halftime. Miles Craigwell came in for Edwards, and seconds into the half Andrew Durutalo went in for Bokhoven. Durutalo and Craigwell were heavily involved in the next series, which ended up with Hawkins shoving his way through defenders to score in the corner. Suniula’s conversion attempt from the touchline hit the post, and Samoa led 14-12 with two minutes to go.
Good pressure from the restart by the USA forced a knock-on and a scrum for the Eagles about 26 meters out. But too many bodies in the ruck from Samoa forced a penalty – although it could just as easily have been against Samoa for diving over – and Samoa killed time long enough to win.
It was a very good effort by the USA, but they were stung by poor defense early on.
Notes: The USA finished pool play 1-2, and not that far from 2-1. They will likely return to the Bowl Round, where they face Zimbabwe, but as of this writing, if Argentina beat England the Eagles could end up 2nd or 4th. Also noteworthy, Folau Niua did not start against Samoa, and did not come on as a sub. Peter Tiberio and Shalom Suniula shared the scrumhalf/flyhalf duties.
Tries: Aiono, Mikaele
Convs: Lui 2
Tries: Edwards, Hawkins