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Weird Comeback Sees USA Women Past Australia

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Weird Comeback Sees USA Women Past Australia

Cheta Emba has been a force. Mike Lee KLC fotos for World Rugby.

The USA Women ended pool play 3-0 after coming back to beat Australia 14-12 in a game where they didn't look at all like they would be able to win that game.

The Eagles did not look like a team poised to win the pool for the first 10 minutes or so. The first half was punctuated by little errors and Australia's ability to pin the USA in their own end. The game was 0-0 well into the first half, and then, finally, a big mistake.

Trying to run out of her 22, Naya Tapper was tackled. She released the ball and got up to regather the ball and move on. However, she was ruled to not have actually regained her feet. Penalty Australia, and seconds later Australia's Sharni Williams was in under the posts. Williams converted and the half ended 7-0.

The USA came out for the second half a little better, and won their kickoff, something that had not been clicking earlier in the tournament. Slowly they worked their way down close to the Australia tryline, and then Tapper did the same thing again. She was tackled, had players to ruck over her, but instead got up to regather the released ball. Same move, same call, penalty.

Incredulous, Tapper could only watch as Australia tapped, got it Demi Hayes, who was gone coast-to-coast. Only a dogged chase from Cheta Embe prevent her from touching down under the posts, and that was a big deal, because Williams missed the conversion attempt.

USA Head Coach Chris Brown ran on some subs, bringing Alev Kelter on to provide a spark in the middle, and Jordan Matyas to give a fresh perspective in the forwards. He also took a bit of a risk with relative newcomer Nia Tolliver on the wing. All acquitted themselves well.

Kelter cut and stepped her way through traffic before sending a wide pass to Embe. The Harvard grad cut back against the grain and found herself free to go in under the posts. Midway through the second half, it was now 12-7. The Eagles didn't win the next restart, but they ut together a very nice pressure defensive front. Kristi Kirshe's hard rush promoted a knock on that Kirshe pounced on. Abby Gustaitis was right there in support and got Kirshe's pop pass to go in under the posts.

Just like that, with Nicole Heavirland's conversion, it was 14-12.

Australia still had time, though, and here's where the USA restart ability came to the fore. Matyas tapped the kickoff back to her side and from there the Eagles did superbly well to retain possession and advance. Even newbie Tolliver, put in a rather difficult position surrounded by Australians, did well to drive forward and get to ground. Ultimately the result was a penalty right in front of the posts. Heavirland, showing the level head for which she is well known, raced over and took control of the ball.

With this being a two-point game and time now up, there would be no quick tap this time. Heavirland might have opted for a kick at goal, but instead tapped and kicked the ball into touch. Ballgame over, and Australia has to be wondering how they lost that game.

They lost, actually, because the USA, when they don't commit needless penalties and when they win a few of their kickoffs, are very, very hard to beat.

"The fact that it was a battle shows a lot," said co-captain Kris Thomas. "It's really a testament to all my teammates and all of us out there. We went down two tries and we didn't give up, we kept fighting and we got the results."

"It took everything we had," added Emba. "We're just thankful we got it done together. There's no limit when we do it together— one to 13 and everyone back home as well. That's what it took today. And I think we tapped into it and took it step-by-step. Good or bad. Got the job done."

Right now we don't know who the USA will play in the quarterfinals—it could be Russia, Great Britain, or even New Zealand, although GB is most likely. What is of great interest is that Canada, a medal contender and 2016 bronze medalists, may well not make the top eight. They beat Brazil but lost to Fiji and were shut out, badly, by France.