IRB Pacific Nations CUP
USA 38-35 Canada
Brett Thompson scored on debut to help USA record their first win over Canada in eight attempts in Sacramento on Saturday.
The USA Sevens Rugby winger, called up by Eagles head coach Mike Tolkin as one of three changes to his starting line-up from the side that lost narrowly to Japan, came up with the match-winning try 10 minutes from time.
Earlier, in front of a sold-out crowd at Bonney Field, two tries from man of the moment, Blaine Scully and one from Chris Wyles had seen the Eagles go toe-to-toe with Canada in a thrilling match where the momentum swayed one way and then the other.
Two early Wyles penalties put USA 6-0 up against a Canada side that had been reduced to 14 men with the loss of scrum half Phil Mack to the sin-bin.
Mack returned to the pitch in the 20th minute and made an immediate impact when his pass found Harry Jones on the wing and the fly half dotted down for a try that was turned into seven points by James Pritchard’s conversion.
Undeterred, the Eagles came back at Canada and Wyles and Scully combined to good effect to put their side in front for the second time in the match. A good break by Danny Barrett, another star of the HSCBC Sevens World Series circuit, set up Wyles for a try which he converted to put the Eagles 18-7 up.
Despite the sweltering conditions, where temperatures reached 32C, Canada refused to wilt and finished the second half strongly, scoring 21 unanswered points to lead 28-18 at the interval.
Back row forward Aaron Carpenter was the first to muscle his way over before Pritchard and Ciaran Hearn, with a 60-metre run, joined him on the scoresheet. With Pritchard converting all three tries Canada had turned the match around, to the disbelief of the home crowd.
Worse was to follow almost immediately after the restart when Jones converted his own try to extend Canada’s lead to 17 points.
A second yellow card for Canada, this time to Jebb Sinclair, gave the Eagles another man advantage – and a further three points after Wyles kicked the resulting penalty.
After sustained pressure from the home side, Mike Petri’s quick pass to Scully gave the Sacramento native his second try of the match. Wyles’ conversion made the score 35-28 with a quarter of the match to play.
Wyles kicked another penalty in the 67th minute to cut the deficit to four points. On the restart, Tom Coolican chased down and blocked a clearance kick deep in Canada’s half. The re-energised Eagles regained possession and worked the ball left to Thompson who strolled over wide out to put the Eagles back in front for the third time in the match. Wyles’ conversion was good and the Eagles managed to close the match out despite coming under intense pressure in the closing stages.
The result means that USA finish second behind Japan in the Pacific Nations Cup 2014 North America/Asia Conference with Canada bringing up the rear.
Fiji 13-18 Samoa
By Greg Thomas
In a characteristically fast, furious and bruising encounter in Suva the visiting Samoans capitalised on Fiji indiscipline in the first half to beat the home side 18-13. For the second Test in a row Samoa won a Test without scoring a try as fly half Tusiata Pisi kicked six penalties from seven attempts.
The result means both sides finish on six points in the Pacific Conference table of Pacific Nations Cup 2014. Samoa finishes top due to the fact that it beat Fiji and drew with Tonga, Fiji’s six points coming from its bonus point win against Tonga and a bonus point for the narrow loss to Samoa.
It was a disappointing result for Fiji who dominated the second half and they now faces the Cook Islands next week in the final Oceania Rugby World Cup 2015 decider. The winner will win a spot in Pool A at the tournament in England next year.
Fiji, with scrum half Nikola Matawalu the spark, scored the only two tries of the match but Samoa’s ability to convert Fiji indiscipline into points in the first half and courageous defence won the day.
Samoa took the lead early with a penalty after one minute when Fiji were penalised at a driving maul in front of the posts, which set the tone for the first half, French referee Mathieu Raynal finding fault with the over eager Fijians, who far too often were caught offside or transgressed at the tackle area.
However, after 10 minutes it was Fiji who scored the first try of the match after several minutes of pressure. The evergreen 38-year-old left wing Sireli Bobo and fly-half Jonetani Ralulu were both denied in the left corner by the Samoa defence before centre Nemani Nodolo picked up from a ruck and crashed over in the same corner.
The game was free-flowing and open for large periods of the half but strong defence and silly errors saw scoring opportunities being missed by both sides. Fiji’s inability to stay disciplined led to four further penalties by Pisi and a yellow card to second row Leone Nakarawa at the 40 minute mark. At the interval Samoa led 15-5.
Down a man the home side gave their home supporters the perfect start to the second half by exploding out of the blocks. Crowd favourite Bobo again caused problems down the left. The ball was moved right and Fiji won a penalty in the Samoa 22. Matawalu took a quick tap and wing Napolioni Nalaga scored in the right corner. Nadolo missed the conversion but slotted a penalty two minutes later to make it 15-13 to Samoa.
Fiji dominated the third quarter of the match but could not add to their tally as further errors cost them time and time again. Samoa absorbed everything that was thrown at them but lost wing Fautua Otto to a yellow card after 50 minutes for an illegal tackle.
Fiji continued to push but with Samoan back rowers Jack Lam and Tai asina Tuifu’a prominent in the defensive effort there was no further addition to the score until Pisi extended Samoa’s lead to 18-13 on the 66 minute mark against the run of play.
Samoa’s brick wall defence continued as Fiji continued to surge forward and search for the wining score. Fiji turned down several kickable penalties and the defining moment of the game came at the 68 minute mark. Matawalu again took a quick tap on the left in the Samoa 22 from a penalty. He fed replacement left wing Watisoni Votu who lost the ball over the line in the tackle. However, Samoa had not retreated 10 metres and from another tap penalty Nalaga crashed over from a ruck only for the referee to spot a Fiji knock on at the tackle.
With the game threatening to boil over as Fiji dominated play Samoa captain David Lemi was given a yellow card three minutes from the end for killing the ball at a ruck. Thankfully for Lemi his teammates held out for the last few minutes and Samoa clinched a 18-13 win.
Reflecting on the loss, Fiji captain Akapusi Qera said: “I thank the boys for their effort even though we lost we learnt from our mistakes. Discipline let us down this week but it’s not the end of the world. We get up again next week to prove ourselves next week.
“The match against Cook Islands is a very important and we are now looking forward to playing them in Lautoka.”
Samoa captain David Lemi declared: “As soon as we arrived in Suva we talked about we hadn’t won on this ground since 1998. I made my Samoa debut in 2004 and it is a dream come true to win on this field here. Credit to the boys, it was tough."
Lemi added: “We looked at Fiji’s game last week and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy but we had to do everything accurately. That’s what we showed today. I take my hat off to the forwards they scrummed well, they drove well and gave us the platform to play.”