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Wild and Exciting Encounter Sees USA Over Toulouse

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Wild and Exciting Encounter Sees USA Over Toulouse

Luke White looks for victims. Wade Bricknell photo.

Playing their first home game in over a year, the USA Men's 15s National Team beat Stade Toulousain 24-21 in a very entertaining, end-to-end game in Sandy Utah.

Played in front of a loud and enthusiastic crowd, the game was back-and-forth throughout—imperfect in its precision but played with a sense of endeavor that was certainly crowd-pleasing.

The Eagles opened the game playing with serious intent and looked to attack both in tight and out wide. But there were little things they also needed to be careful about little things like being a shade late to the ruck and allowing a holding-on penalty.

As it was, the Eagles worked it wide and Christian Dyer had a few very promising chances—he just needed slightly better follow-up.

Meanwhile, when Toulouse got the ball back they also wanted to play wide and run hard. The USA defense was strong at the point of contact and forced a few knock-ons.

There was something new and aggressive about this USA approach. As it was, they came away with no points in that first half. A quick-pass play in the midfield misfired twice. The Stade defense was just good enough.

Finally, Toulouse nabbed the ball on the right wing and raced down the sideline. The USA cover defense was good but the Toulouse forwards got there, recycled well, and a smart kick wide set up the opening try. Somewhat against the run of play Stade Toulousain led 7-0.

This was a situation where the Eagles might have gone into their shell but they didn't. Instead they kept moving the ball and looking to attack. With Luke Carty making big ground on his kicks to touch on penalties, the USA had some good chances. One such lineout resulted in an overthrow and center Bryce Campbell swooped in to rescue the ball and keep the attack going. Good runs from Greg Peterson and Tavite Lopeti got them close again, but Stade halted a maul, and were able to go into halftime up 7-0.

Still the Eagles had to feel confident and they certainly played with it. Right off the second-half kickoff Toulouse lost the ball forward. The USA scrum, which had been pretty solid, earned a penalty and suddenly the Eagles were running another lineout close to the Toulouse line. This throw, also, went long but this time it bounced up a bit and Campbell just scooped it up and went over.

Just like that, with Carty's conversion it was 7-7.

The Eagles got a penalty soon after that Carty put through the sticks and his team was now up 10-7.

Back came Toulouse with a good chase on the restart. The French side counter-rucked to steal possession, and exploited the fact that the USA defense was a bit bunched and kicked through to score in the corner. Conversion good and Toulouse had the lead back at 14-10.

The Eagle accuracy improved after this but they kept playing in an aggressive manner, with multiple passes every phase. It kept Toulouse working on defense. Finally, from another attacking lineout the ball landed in the arms of Takaji Young Yen. The Utah Warrior player went over untouched much to the delight of the Utah crowd. Carty slotted the kick and the Eagles led 17-14.

This is exactly how the game progressed. Quick ball and a desire to play rugby from both teams. Refereed well with wise advantage played, the game flowed from goalline to goalline. 

Back came Toulouse with another break through. The Eagles cover defense was there but Stade kept up the pressure. A wide kick almost produced a try but was covered. Finally a big, loopy pass set up the try in the corner. Kick good, and it was 21-17.

The Eagles pinned Toulouse back in their end and didn't let them out. Stade looked to find some room wide, but the scouting report said they would try that. Nate Augspurger knew it and when he saw the movement develop he raced in to intercept the pass and was over. That made it 24-21 with time winding down.

But there was more drama. Toulouse got all the way down to the USA tryline. The Eagles kept defending (and not giving up repeated penalties) and worked hard to the end. eventually, Nate Brakeley and Thomas Tu'avao were able to get over the ball and force a penalty. Game over? No. A few seconds remained and when touch was missed on the kick Toulouse had one more shot. The USA defense swarmed in and forced a knock-on.

Now the game was over.

This game was a lesson in how good it is to play at home. Several players had solid performances, and hard-charging Luke White has to be happy with the improvements he made. Yes Toulouse was missing several French national team players, but the Eagles were missing players, as well—one of them, David Ainu'u, was playing for Toulouse!

So, regardless that this was not a test match, it was hugely entertaining, fast-paced, and a game in which the Eagles finished strong and closed it out. 

And won.