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USA Escapes Kenya Scare in Olympic Opener

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USA Escapes Kenya Scare in Olympic Opener

Madison Hughes scored the game-winner.

The USA is 1-0 in Men's Olympic Rugby pool action but it wasn't easy, or pretty.

The Americans seemed in control after about four minutes, but then started making silly errors that put themselves under pressure. Eventually, however, they needed just a couple of big plays, and they got them.

The Eagles received the kickoff and sent Danny Barrett up the sideline, and almost immediately he took a knock above his eye and was quick bleeding all over the place. He was patched up, but following that Folau Niua missed touch on a kick following a penalty.

Kenya showed they hand, targeting starting wing Carlin Isles as a player they figured they could run over. Not so fast. Isles made his tackles, the first one leading to Martin Iosefo forcing a penalty. The Eagles took the lineout, got another penalty, and then opted for a scrum. This was a good move and it opened up space for Isles, and Madison Hughes fed the speedster for a relatively easy try and a 5-0 lead.

Kenya took the restart and targeted Isles again. He made the tackle and once again Kenya was penalized. From the ensuing lineout Joe Schroeder charged ahead and was stopped just short of the line. But after another ruck a short ball to Iosefo put him over. Hughes converted and it was 12-0.

Then it all changed. The USA team started committing silly penalties. A good break up the left wing drew Schroeder and Niua, leaving a space for Collins Injera to come in for a well-taken try. That made ti 12-7 at halftime, and then in the second half a not-straight on a lineout gave Kenya another shot and they scored up the middle. Conversion good and Kenya now led 14-12.

More penalties, plus a not-five on a lineout throw, put the USA under pressure. And then it almost all fell apart. A nifty chip through looked to have set up a try, and probably the game-sealing try, for Kenya. But Matai Leuta, who had been put on the field just moments before, dove on to force a knock-on. No try, and a USA scrum five meters from their line.

Perry Baker was on the field at this point, and it seemed logical to get him the ball. But, from the scrum, Kevon Williams, now in at scrumhalf, ran around the weak side and cruised through three Kenya defenders. The chase was on, and Williams went about 50 meters before he was caught. However, by then he'd already popped the ball back to Hughes who had been on his horse in support.

Hughes was still being chase but he made it, whacked over the conversion, and the Eagles were back ahead 19-14.

There was time for the restart, but only that, so all the USA needed to do was win the ball and get it in touch. Iosefo did both, going up in the air, and knocking the ball backward. It rolled into touch and the game was over.

Iosefo Brings His Fitness, Aerial Skills, to Olympics

So, some head-scratching options for the USA, such as kicking for the lineout when a tap and getting it out to a fresh Perry Baker made perhaps a bit more sense. Their misfires on three lineouts (if you count missing touch) and a couple of defensive mismatches made it difficult for them.

Next up for the USA is Ireland, which lost 33-14 to South Africa in their opener. The campaign isn't over for Kenya, who could parlay a good points difference into a place in the final eight. For the USA, beating Ireland puts them in the quarterfinals.

Other scores in Round 1:

Fiji 24 Japan 19
Great Britain 24 Canada 0
New Zealand 50 Korea 5
Argentina 29 Australia 19
South Africa 33 Ireland 14
USA 19 Kenya 14

Fiji's close win over Japan is a bit of a surprise.