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In Another Close Day One Clash, Eagles Get Job Done in Olympics

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In Another Close Day One Clash, Eagles Get Job Done in Olympics

Perry Baker scored an early one for the USA against Ireland. Photo Mike Lee KLC fotos for World Rugby.

The USA won their second pool game in the men's Olympic rugby competition; it was rough sledding but they did it, and are now 2-0 and in good position for the rest of the competition.

Against Ireland, the Eagles started off well, working the ball rom sideline to sideline. Martin Iosefo and Stephen Tomasin made small inroads but perhaps the key play was Danny Barrett, taking a pass from Tomasin and not deciding to bull ahead. 

Instead, the big man held off, waited, and spun the ball left, where, eventually, Perry Baker eluded a tackle and was free down the sideline.

Up 5-0 the Eagles made it 12-0 almost immediately. Iosefo went up for the restart, knocked it back, and captain Madison Hughes raced in to toe the ball ahead. The skipper then outpaced everyone to dive onto the ball, and then convert to give his side a two-score lead.

And after that? After that it was fraught. The USA lost the ball on a knock-on, and then a penalty in the ruck. And even after the Eagles got a penalty of their own, they turned it over and Ireland exposed a couple of weak tackles (which required some help) to go in at the corner.

That made it 12-5 at halftime. The second half started with a penalty from Maceo Brown for hitting a player in the air. The Irish took a lineout and kept going from there. The Eagles were caught bunching in the middle, and Ireland was in at the corner. The only consolation was that Harry McNulty's try was scored out wide and the conversion was missed—12-10.

So the Eagles needed to break the momentum and they got something from Brett Thompson deep in his own 22. The former University of Arizona star dummied and charged through. He was gone for about 65 meters before being tackled high. The rest of the USA was there to capitalize, sending it to Kevon Williams who then sent a flat ball to Tomasin to put him over.

Conversion good from Hughes and it was 19-10—crucially, with less than three minutes to go, it was a two-score game.  

 

They needed that cushion.

The Eagles did seem to be able to run out the clock. Thompson stole a lineout throw and the Eagles kept the ball working back and forth, and really they did enough. Just as the hooter sounded, the ball was turned over in the ruck, and Ireland scored.

So was it really that tight? Yes it was. But the USA won it, are 2-0 in pool play, and are in the quarterfinals however the game against South Africa goes tonight (10:30PM Eastern Time tonight, Monday).

"It's all about going into Day Two," said Baker. "We took care of the first few games, which was very important for us. So I feel good, no matter how we got the win."  

"I mean obviously it's Day One, so everybody wants to come out, performing their best and put their front foot forward and just be able to carry that momentum into Day Two," added Matai Leuta. "We have a few things we need to work on, but that's with everything and we'll, we'll sharpen those tools and be ready for tomorrow."

After two rounds, South Africa and USA are 2-0 and have clinched quarterfinal spots. Great Britain and Fiji are in the same situation. New Zealand has also clinched a spot in the top eight, and chances are that Argentina, Australia, and the winner of Kenya vs Ireland will round out that group.

"You know, we got tested against Ireland," added Leuta. "They were a strong squad, physical, fast. And that's what we're going to expect from South Africa tomorrow, as well. And so they definitely push us to the limits so that we know what we need to work on going into that South Africa game."