Tonga proved too strong for the USA as they sealed a 31-19 bonus-point win in their Rugby World Cup Pool C encounter in Higashiosaka on Sunday.
In a topsy-turvy match, characterised by several unforced errors from both sides, the Pacific Islanders got better as the match progressed and eventually outscored the Eagles by four tries to three.
Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, Malietoa Hingano, Siale Piutau and Telusa Veainu scored Tonga’s tries and Mike Te’o (2) and Tony Lamborn dotted down for the USA. Tonga’s other points came courtesy of two conversions and a penalty from Sonatane Takulua while James Faiva and Piutau also succeeded with a conversion apiece. AJ MacGinty also added two conversions for the Eagles.
The opening exchanges were evenly contested with the sides feeling each other out but the game came alive in the 17th minute when the Pacific Islanders opened the scoring courtesy of Fisi’ihoi’s try from close quarters after the ball went through several pairs of hands in the build-up.
Takulua added the extras but the Eagles did not take long to respond as Te’o found himself in space down the right-hand touchline in the 23rd minute and he did well to beat the cover defence with deft footwork before crossing for his first try.
Three minutes later, the USA were on the attack again inside Tonga’s half and they took the lead when Te’o crossed for his second try after gathering a brilliant flick pass from Cam Dolan.
Just before half-time Tonga had a chance to narrow the gap when Fisi’ihoi was in the clear out wide but he had the ball knocked from his grasp while crossing the whitewash by Ruben de Haas and the teams changed sides at the interval with the USA leading 12-7.
Tonga drew first blood in the second half courtesy of a penalty from Takulua in the 51st minute after the Eagles’ back-line strayed offside on defence. The USA came back strongly and were camped close to Tonga’s try-line in the 59th minute but conceded a turnover which proved fatal. The Pacific Islanders launched a counter attack with Veainu booting the ball upfield before ‘Atieli Pakalani gathered deep inside the Eagles’ half. He offloaded to Hingano, who went over for a deserved try.
Tonga continued to attack and five minutes later they were rewarded when Piutau breached the USA’s defence before dotting down. Takulua was successful off the kicking tee which meant the Pacific Islanders were leading 24-12 but the USA came back strongly in the game’s closing stages and narrowed the gap when Lamborn crashed over for their third try from close range.
Despite that score, Tonga finished stronger and secured the result and when Veainu dotted down after gathering a teasing grubber kick from Latiume Fosita after the full-time hooter had gone.
For USA: Tries: Te’o 2, Lamborn Cons: MacGinty 2
For Tonga: Tries: Fisi’ihoi, Hingano, Piutau, Veainu Cons: Takulua 2, Faiva, Piutau Pens: Takulua
USA: 15 Will Hooley, 14 Blaine Scully (c), 13 Bryce Campbell, 12 Paul Lasike, 11 Marcel Brache, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Ruben de Haas, 8 Cam Dolan, 7 Malon Al-Jiboori, 6 Tony Lamborn, 5 Nick Civetta, 4 Greg Peterson, 3 Titi Lamositele, 2 Joe Taufete’e, 1 Eric Fry Replacements: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Olive Kilifi, 18 Paul Mullen, 19 Ben Landry, 20 Hanco Germishuys, 21 Ben Pinkelman, 22 Nate Augspurger, 23 Mike Te’o
Tonga: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 ‘Atieli Pakalani, 13 Malietoa Hingano, 12 Siale Piutau (c), 11 Viliami Lolohea, 10 James Faiva, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Zane Kapeli, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Halaleva Fifita, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 Paula Ngauamo, 1 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi Replacements: 16 Siua Maile, 17 Vunipola Fifita, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Dan Faleafa, 20 Nasi Manu, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 Latiume Fosita, 23 David Halaifonua
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales) Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Shuhei Kubo (Japan) TMO: Graham Hughes (England)