USA’s unenviable run of World Cup loses continues – making it ten in a row across the last three tournaments. It’s a statistic that in no way does justice to the effort shown by the American Eagles today, in a bruising match in which they came within one late score of snatching a hard-fought result.
Tonga for their part at times appeared the engineers of their own demise – brilliant at times, mind-bogglingly wasteful at others. Tries dropped over the line, far too many balls turned over from open play, but when it mattered most they came up big – pulling away around the hour mark with two quick tries before adding a late coup de grace after the final gong.
A game that would have delighted fans and frustrated coaches in equal measure – plenty to hang the hat on for US Rugby, they’ll examine the tape and come away with plenty of “learnings”, while for Tonga it’s five points at the last, to wrap a tournament in which they came so close, so often, but perhaps failed to put it all together enough to reward their evident ability.
And if you missed any of that – here’s the full-time report. A game equal parts chaotic and exhilarating to close Pool C:
There is of course so much more World Cup rugby action to come today. Luke McLaughlin is the man on the joystick for Wales v Uruguay. No doubt there will be a huge boilover there and any Australian fans reading this will delight at a shock top spot and subsequent quarter-final match up with France.
All of which is just a prelude to what’s fast become one of the most anticipated clashes of the entire pool stage: host nation Japan – chasing their first ever knockout stages berth – against Scotland for the last spot in the finals. Crunch stuff.
Fittingly, it’s the Tongan skipper Siale Piutau who is awarded the player of the match honours, in his last ever outing in the red of Tonga. The hard-working flanker Sione Kalamafoni has also announced he’ll hang up his boots, so lovely that Tonga could go out winners for two of their veteran stars.
So that’s how it finishes. Tonga secure the bonus point with that late, after-the-gong balls-and-all play, and finish the tournament with six points.
The way they played against France – falling just two points short – you do wonder if they’ll look back on this tournament in weeks and months to come and think: what if..
For the US – so much credit despite the loss. They put on a whopping 147 tackles – and when you think each of those was on a rampaging Tongan, you get a sense for how much energy, how much determination is needed to back up for four lots of 80+ minutes of World Cup rugby.
There will be plenty of long magnesium baths this evening – these boys will be battered and bruised.
Full-time: United States 19-31 Tonga
What a finish. What drama. And what an end to the Japan World Cup from Pool C.
They came back to within just a converted try, the Eagles. They had almost no rights to be that close, given the dominance across the game that Tonga enjoyed – with possession, with territory – but they showed such heart, just four days after their previous match.
Try! United States 19-31 Tonga (Veainu)
80 min: Unbelievable finish! The Tonga coaches box exploded when the players elected to play the scrum, and not take the guaranteed three points. But from the resulting play Tonga roll in the grubber, and it’s the fullback Veainu who races through to score under the posts!
Remarkable finish. And if we wanted more drama, we go upstairs for a TMO to check it anyway.
And the whole team lines up to support the skipper, Piutau, who is given the honours of taking the last conversion. It’s an ugly old strike, but it wobbles over!
79 min: Penalty advantage, Tonga! There’s an infringement at the scrum. And forget the easy three points – Tonga are setting for a scrum! Is this high risk? Can the US snatch it and go coast-to-coast?! IMAGINE.
78 min: We’ve got a scrum about 15m out from the US line though, with a Tongan feed. Can they control the ball and run down the clock?
Try! United States 19-24 Tonga (Lamborn)
77 min: HELLO. The blindside flanker gets the ball against the post, and there’s the try!
McGinty smashes through the conversion in quick time – and suddenly, we’ve got around 120 seconds for the miraculous to happen! Can they lock this up, the Eagles?!
76 min: They’re just 3m out, USA – they drive centrally but a big hit from Vaipulu momentarily halts momentum. Hilderbrand tries the big leg drive – do they get contact with the post? They’re ever so close, but Nigel Owens says no!
He talks to his TMO – just to check: is this the lifeline for the USA?
75 min: They run a deep line, USA, but it just cedes metres. The Eagles swing right before Brache puts it on the toe – but the Tongan back three avert the danger!
Credit to America, they’re not going down without a fight. They have an offensive lineout, about 10m out. Is this it?
74 min: Tonga look to move it both sides – but the defence does very well once more, and this time it’s a man in red bundled into touch. USA lineout – just inside their half.
72 min: The clock is starting to become a little bit of a factor for the States – they need something, and soon if they’re to snatch this one.
Campbell looks to scamper down the touchline, but he’s put into touch by some excellent covering defence.
70 min: It’s a high pass, and the runner has little chance – ball down! Credit the defensive tackle, but the timing was all wrong for the US.
But now it’s Civetta with a huge bump and run! Ach, it’s happened again – he’s done so well, he’s been isolated from his teammates, and Tonga earn the turnover.
68 min: USA look to launch another attack, but they lose it and it’s another scrum. Advice from the sideline overturns the call, and the feed goes to USA. 22m out. What can they fashion here?
66 min: We set for a scrum, but a break in play as one of the Tongan players looks to receive treatment. Pakalani, I believe it is, getting attention for a bloody noggin.
We reset, as the Tongan front row collapses.
64 min: So a really critical next 5-10 minutes for the Americans. They have to score next, and they can’t afford to concede if they’re to end this horror run of World Cup loses.
They’re o the attack now, and it’s McGinty who finds a half-break, before Mullen makes a bust. But there’s an accidental offside – what a shame, that was a good passage for the US.
Try! United States 12-24 Tonga (Piutau)
62 min: It’s another break – and would you believe it, it’s the Wagnerian prop Siegfried Fisi’ihoi who makes the bust! Vaipulu backs up, and as they spread right, it’s the skipper Piutau – in his last ever game in a Tongan shirt – who scores a deserving try. His teammates rush to celebrate with him.
Faiva slots the conversion, two points added.
60 min: The US regather – can they rally again? They’ve been so solid defensively, but they had to get through a weight of work. Will that start to have an effect on tiring bodies?
Try! United States 12-17 Tonga (Hingano)
58 min: Wow. What a counter-attack! The fullback Veainu sees that the US have nobody at home, so he kicks over the top. The chase is on and the fullback just does enough to prevent the one covering Eagle from scooping it up – and Tonga regather, and the centre Hingano is backing up on the inside. A lightning raid!
No mistake from the kick – and Tonga move to a unconverted try lead.
55 min: Good quick ball from USA, they go wide but to little effect. You have to think they’ve lost a bit extra in that regard with Scully off the field. His replacement Te’o looks to get things moving and the replacement Mullen gets some more good metres.
They build 15 phases – the first time either side has hit that mark – and they move within the 22m. This is good stuff from the USA.
But he’s lost it! Civetta hits the line at pace, and it spills loose!
54 min: It’s a smart kick over the line from McGinty – the bounce is wicked and deceives the fullback, but in the scramble that follows it ends up a Tongan lineout feed.
52 min: Tonga kick to touch – we’ve seen more of this from them this half, given they have the wind behind them now. It’s a USA lineout feed bang on halfway.
They claim, and look to get something going – and it’s the scrum half de Haas who finds a gap from broken play!
Penalty! United States 12-10 Tonga
And from just to the right, Takulua bangs it over, and we’re back within a penalty – or a drop goal (*looks excitedly*) – the margin.
48 min: If they don’t get up here Tonga you’ll imagine there will be 23 men in red (and half a dozen coaching staff) having nightmares about this game for years to come.
They earn a penalty though, and Takulua has a chance to add three vital points.
46 min: Another big opportunity though as Tonga set down a scrum just inside the US 22m zone. The skipper Piutau runs with ball in-hand but he’s well brought down. This is rugged defence from the USA, they’ve been especially good in that regard today.
Tonga build the phases though – they’re about 3m out! Oh my. It’s the skipper Piatau – and has he gone the wrong way??
It’s three on one, he’s got men outside him, and the skipper tries the miracle ball inside for Lolohea, but surely the play was simple catch and pass! Remarkable.
44 min: A great dart from Vaipulu from the back of the scrum – some great metres, and Tonga swing right as Veainu joins the line. He has a winger outside him – all he has to do is hit his chest and they’re in for a try here – but the ball sails into touch!
Almost a carbon copy of a loose pass we saw from the US in the first half; is the wind wreaking havoc out there? Big chance missed.
42 min: That’s remarkable – they trade a series of kicks, possibly eight back and forth – but it’s de Haas who has the last laugh as he drills an inch-perfect kick just a few metres out from the Tongan line.
They win their lineout, the men in red, but USA will get the lineout feed in decent possession as Tonga look to clear their lines.
The wind could play a factor this second half – if it aids the US kicking game it could really get away from Tonga.
And we’re back – the USA with ball in-hand, but again there are early turnovers, with defences once again on top. McGinty fires a monster kick – they’ve definitely done well with their kicking game so far, the United States.
So – your thoughts on that opening half?! Have USA been good value for their lead, or have Tonga shot themselves in the foot a little?
They’ve enjoyed 62% possession, 69% of the territory, and carried 363m to USA’s 151m, the Ikale Tahi.
But it’s been far too stop-start, there’s been too many easy balls to ground, and at times the play has been forced just a little too much for coach Kefu’s liking, you’d imagine.
Half-time: United State 12-7 Tonga
40 + 2 min: They probe and push, Tonga, but the defence stands up, and finally a pass is forced, and adjudged to fly forward.
Nigel Owens says enough – and a frenetic first forty comes to a close!
40 min: A penalty just on the gong for Tonga, and they kick to touch to set up one last opportunity from the lineout. They’re about 25m out – still plenty to do from here, and the maul is slowed but a good US counter-push.