USA upset Tonga on day one of JWRT

(IRB.COM) Tuesday 19 June 2012
 USA upset Tonga on day one of JWRT
USA's Travis Whitlock spots a gap in the Tongan defence during his side's 22-11 victory over the pre-tournament favourites in Utah. Photo: David Brinton

The United States stunned Tonga in the final game of the Junior World Rugby Trophy's first day running out 22-11 winners. Second-half tries by Madison Hughes and Cameron Falcon propelled the Eagles over a Tongan side that received most of the support from a filled-to-capacity crowd at Murray Rugby Park.

The top-seeded Tongans took an 11-6 lead, their biggest of the match, shortly after half-time when Alifeleti Atiola scored a try. The No. 8 finished off an impressive, quick attack up the middle. Tonga kept on the offensive, nearly scoring on Siale Talakai's right-side run. That was the high tide for Tonga as things unravelled after that.

Viliami Fatafehi, Taniela Vakauta and Michael Faleafa all received disciplinary cards in the second half. Faleafa's was the most serious, earning himself a straight red for his part of a fracas between the two teams.

The Americans converted the ensuing penalty attempt just after the hour mark to give them a 12-11 lead, their first since early in the first half.

With a two-man advantage and the wind at their backs, the Eagles kept attacking in waves.

Full-back Hughes took the ball himself in for a try in the 75th minute, but missed the conversion to give the United States a six-point lead. Eight minutes later, hooker Falcon scored the clinching try just two minutes before full time.

In the first hale, the Eagles opened the scoring just after the quarter hour mark, as Hughes converted his first penalty kick attempt. Twelve minutes earlier Tonga had a similar penalty try only to have it harmlessly bounce off the right post.

For the next 20 minutes, the two teams battled back and forth in the middle of the field. The United States used mostly driving runs while the Tongans employed a stellar kicking game to gain territory.

Each team picked up yellow cards — Tonga's Faleafa for diving at the pile and the US's Tim O'Hara for dangerous tackle — in the defensive first half.

The Tongan fly half Sione Makaafi converted after O'Hara's card as he split the uprights to tie the game at 3-3 in the 38th minute.

Tonga quickly took the lead after converting another penalty from midfield just a minute later. On the last kick of the half, Hughes tied the game 6-6 on a short penalty try. But the real drama was to come in the second half and this win puts the US is a great position as it seeks to win its first JWRT title.