The USA Men’s Eagles took another step forward in team cohesion on Saturday night in Dubai, keeping offensive momentum, but more importantly tightening up defensive efforts in another win at the Rugby World Cup Final Qualification Tournament against Hong Kong.
With the intent of keeping the game in hand and increasing confidence for the third and final round, the USA continue to improve. The Eagles’ 49-7 victory once again earned the squad bonus points, setting them up for a final matchup against Portugal that will ultimately determine the final spot at the Rugby World Cup next year. The USA dominated the territory battle and improved on phases this round, moving faster through the breakdown to score seven tries against Hong Kong’s one. With Portugal’s shutout win over Kenya, its winner take all in the final round-robin matchup set to take place Friday, November 18 at 10:30 AM ET. Watch today’s full match on The Rugby Network.
The first half started off quickly, with Hong Kong pressuring the breakdown early and earning a penalty. Knowing points wouldn’t come easy against the USA front, the went for posts in the third minute, but the kick sailed wide. The Eagles spent some time inching toward the try line, but penalties and defensive plays from Hong Kong pushed them back. The USA stayed in control and played at their pace, keeping 75% of the first half in Hong Kong’s territory. Discipline and patience paid off through the first 40 min with saw four tries from the Eagles, who did well to mix their attacking options. The first from Jamason Fa'anana-Schultz, who crashed over the line after picking up from an offload.
Lineout phases and wing speed were also a hallmark of the Eagle’s first-half performance. A textbook rolling maul gave Kapeli Pifeleti the second try of the day, while the squad kept it together with clinical recycles and fast-moving phases, giving Nate Augspurger the opportunity to send it over the try line and Cam Dolan the same for another 5 points 10 minutes later. Heading into the second half 28-0, the USA’s offensive prowess was on full display, but keeping Hong Kong exclusively in their own territory was a testament to the USA defensive wall.
Moving into the second half, the USA fought to keep possession and scored two more tries by Mitch Wilson and Augspurger with assists from captain AJ MacGinty. Back in the starting role at flyhalf, MacGinty did well to game manage and create opportunities. Despite the heavy momentum, the USA did slow up a bit in the second half, playing a little more loose and allowing Matthew Worley to break the line and give Hong Kong their first and only try.
While the USA’s second half play was a little scrappy, they didn’t break the defensive line, and held Hong Kong to under 10 visits past their 22. While they split possession with the USA in the second half, Hong Kong simply weren’t able to get much momentum with it and for the majority, only held that possession deep in their own end.
As the Eagle’s subs came in, the squad took some time to find their footing with each other but kept it together for Moni Tonga'uiha to score once more after a long possession. MacGinty and Luke Carty slotted all seven conversions for the Eagles, adding 14 critical points.
Leading the game and forward pack, Cam Dolan was awarded Player of the Match honors in his 62 test match, tying US Rugby Hall of Famer Luke Gross for third most all time.
Head Coach Gary Gold on Saturday's performance:
"I thought the first half was pretty clinical, I think we went our business quite well. We were able to spend over 60% of the first half putting them under pressure in their half of the field which was our objective. We wanted to put them under pressure at the set piece, which we by and large achieved.
"I'm happy with where we are at the moment, I think we're improving in certain areas, but we've got our work cut out for us next weekend, that's for sure. Next week I would definitely like to see us follow through on our chances. We're creating so many opportunities, but we're just not finishing them off. Whether it's deciding to keep the ball in hand or being more clinical at the line out, we'll need to take more advantage of our opportunities next week."
Captain AJ MacGinty Post Game:
“It was always challenging, and even though the sun was down it was sweaty and sticky out there. The territory was a big part of the first half, and our forwards managed to get on top. That gave us a lot of joy, so really happy with that. The whole week you just want to perform your best. You don’t go chasing the outcome, and that was a big focus this week. Just staying on task was the message.
In these conditions, it was difficult to play, so our mindset was putting the pressure on to keep the ball in their half, we managed to do that a lot. We want to get better, and I don’t know how many things you want to tweak in a short turnaround, but it’s about stepping up again. The intensity of the game is going to increase, so you have to rise to that.”
A live replay of this morning’s match is available on The Rugby Network. Next up, the USA faces Portugal next Friday, Nov. 18 at 10:30 AM ET.
USA MEN'S EAGLES ROSTER | USA vs HONG KONG
|1. David Ainu'u||Toulouse (FRA)||19|
|2. Kapeli Pifeleti||Saracens (ENG)||9|
|3. Paul Mullen||Utah Warriors||29|
|4. Greg Peterson||Newcastle Falcons (ENG)||38|
|5. Cam Dolan||NOLA Gold||62|
|6. Viliami Helu||Rugby ATL||2|
|7. Cory Daniel||Old Glory DC||2|
|8. Jamason Fa'anana-Schultz||Old Glory DC||8|
|9. Ruben De Haas||Saracens (ENG)||27|
|10. AJ MacGinty (C)||Bristol Bears||34|
|11. Nate Augspurger||San Diego Legion||35|
|12. Paul Lasike||Utah Warriors||21|
|13. Marcel Brache||San Diego Legion||32|
|14. Christian Dyer||Houston SaberCats||10|
|15. Mitch Wilson||New England Free Jacks||2|
|16. Dylan Fawsitt||Rugby New York||22|
|17. Chance Wenglewski||Rugby New York||11|
|18. Nate Sylvia||San Diego Legion||2|
|19. CC Mahoni||Houston SaberCats||9|
|20. Tesimoni Tonga'uiha||NOLA Gold||5|
|21. Ryan Rees||Rugby ATL||2|
|22. Luke Carty||MLR||10|
|23. Bryce Campbell||MLR||43|
USA MEN’S EAGLES STAFF
Head Coach | Gary Gold
Assistant Coach | Mario Ledesma
Assistant Coach | Steve Brett
Assistant Coach | John Plumtree
Head Strength & Conditioning Coach | Huw Bevan
Strength & Conditioning Coach | Calvin Morris
Analyst | Jimmy Harrison
Head Physiotherapist | Kristen Douhan
Physiotherapist | Ron Klingensmith
Sports Massage Therapist | Daliah Hurwitz
Team Doctor | Marc Kowalsky
Team Manager | Oscar Alvarez
USA MEN’S EAGLES MATCH SCHEDULE
USA vs Kenya
Sunday, Nov 6 | (W) 68-14
Live replay on The Rugby Network
USA vs Hong Kong
Saturday, Nov 12 | (W) 49-7
Live replay on The Rugby Network
USA vs Portugal
Friday, Nov 18 | 10:30 AM ET
Live on The Rugby Network