The USA is into the Shield final after beating Tonga in a thrilling 33-26 decision.
The victory made sure the USA could get more than the minimum points in the HSBC World Series, but also served the give the team a much-needed jolt of confidence.
The Eagles had been starting Carlin Isles, but had failed to get him much ball. So the first possession, they simply passed to Isles with a lot of space on the right. Isles right laterally until he could turn the corner, and just blazed past everyone for a brilliant try. That got the USA started on the right foot.
Tonga felt a bit of the pressure to reply, but muffed a pass into touch. From this lineout they kept the ball on the inside, and Hume showed off a replica of the try he scored against Wales, sidestepping several defenders to go in long range.
Running with confidence, the USA looked much better. Enosa hit the conversion for the 12-0 lead.
An unforced knock-on from Maka Unufe gave up the ball, and Tonga were patient this time. Isles, while an offensive threat, is still working on his defense, and Kilifi Latu shoved Isles away, took the break, and then floated a pass in to Atelea Okati for the try. 12-7.
About 40 seconds left, the Eagles didn’t control the restart and Tonga were only too happy to take advantage. After a penalty, Viliami Iongi scored and converted as well to make it 14-12 Tonga in the lead at halftime.
At halftime USA Head Coach Alex Magleby put in Zach Test. A little under pressure to re-earn his starts, Test won the kickoff brilliantly to set up possession, but another frustrating and unnecessary holding on penalty gave the ball to Tonga. Okati went in at the corner, but Isles almost dragged him into touch-in-goal. Try good. 19-12 Tonga led.
The Eagles have had all kinds of trouble dealing with life in contact, and still did. Luke Hume went on a lovely break, but he was caught and his pass bounced off someone’s face for a knock-on. It seemed like it would be that kind of day. But they got the ball back. Hawkins turned the ball over with a thumping tackle, Mike Palefau did the smart thing and passed to Isles, and Isles turned around the corner, faked the touchdown, and rounded in under the posts.
The conversion was good, and that tied it up 19-19.
Now it was up to who scored next, and the restart finally worked for the USA. Enosa lofted the kickoff and Test got it, knocked it down to Unufe, who juggled the ball and caught it, and ran in for the leading try. 26-19 USA led.
Plenty of time for Tonga to come back, and they took the restart and challenged the USA defense. But Isles made two excellent tackles, the second turning the ball over and almost setting up a try for Matt Hawkins. Hawkins was hauled down just short of the line, but from the scrum, Tai Enosa dummied and was over. That was the crucial score, because now the USA were ahead two scores. Enosa hit the conversion for a 33-19 lead.
Tonga didn’t stop and scored well over a minute past the hooter, but it was a moot point. The USA, had not only won, they had won scoring five tries, and won going away, rather than hoping to come back at the last minute.
So it's the Shield Final for the USA, against Scotland
Tries: Isles 2, Hume, Unufe, Enosa
Convs: Enosa 4
Tries: Okati 2, Iongi, Latu
Convs: Iongi 2, Palei