The Fijians showed their finishing ability, tallying four tries for maximum Epson Cup points, while the USA managed two from their significant periods of possession and enterprising offense in Apia, Samoa.
"We played very positively," said head coach Duncan Hall. "We actually used the ball a lot better than Fiji which is a great credit to the guys. We had our chances, but unfortunately there were a few mistakes as well."
Fiji's fullback Kameli Natoba raced in for a converted try in the opening minutes, and the Eagles answered quickly with a 35m Well's penalty kick and an Olo Fifita try. The USA's forwards established pressure inside the Fijian 22m, and scrumhalf Kevin Dalzell put through a grubber kick that was mishandled by Fiji's defense, allowing the Eagle No. 8 to regather and dot down on his debut.
While the USA had an edge in possession through most of the first half, helped by a couple of lineout steals, an isolated turnover was all the Fijians needed to spring Marika Vunibaka for a 50m romp to make it a 14-8 margin at the 20 minute mark.
Two more penalties from Grant Wells versus one from Fiji made it 17-14 nearing halftime. Fiji then punished a momentary defensive lapse, crossing in the corner with about three minutes to play in the period.
After the break, the team's were deadlocked for nearly 20 minutes, until Fiji's Nicky Little added a penalty and then converted the fourth Fijian try to take control of the match. But the Eagles weren't done and an attacking lineout saw lock Philippe Farner driven to the line and then stretch out for the team's second try.
"I thought the forward pack played well," noted Hall. "The tight five were solid." Hall made four forward changes in the second half, subbing out both try scorers who had picked up injuries (Fifita - hamstring, Farner - groin) and two in the front row. Robbie Flynn came in at hooker and prop Mike MacDonald earned his first cap in relief of Joe Clayton. Tighthead prop Ray Lehner--a late change to the USA line-up after John McBride became ill -- played the full match.
Aided by the fresh legs, the Eagles pressured Fiji's line again inside the last ten minutes with hopes of narrowing the gap and taking at least a bonus point out of the match. The Fijians not only withstood the pressure but created breathing space with a penalty at the death.
"The guys were disappointed, but I told them to keep their heads up," coach Hall said. "We really took the game to Fiji. If we can do that against Tonga, it'll be good."
The Eagles, now 2-1 in the Epson Cup, have a short week before their next test in Nuku'alofa. They resume training tomorrow with all players expected to be available for next week's match.
Final: Fiji 37 United States 21 (halftime: Fiji 24-14)
United States: Tries: Fifita, Farner
Penalties: Wells (3)
Fiji: Tries: Natoba (2), Vunibaka, A.N. Other
Penalties: Little (3)
Conversions: Little (4)
United States: Kurt Shuman; Vaea Anitoni, Philip Eloff, Alatini Saulala,
Malakai Delai; Grant Wells, Kevin Dalzell; Joe Clayton (Mike MacDonald),
Kirk Khasigian (Robbie Flynn), Ray Lehner, Luke Gross, Philippe Farner
(Matt Kane), Dave Hodges (captain), Kort Schubert, Olo Fifita (Don Younger).
© USA National Rugby Team
Scott Compton, Media Relations
Hudson Rugby Fieldhouse
Berkeley, California 94720 4426
phone 510.643.1971 / fax 510.643.2192