Friday, July 24, 2015

Eagles Hold On To Beat Japan

Photo: Mike Kreizenbeck

For the second straight year in a row in Sacramento it came down to a defensive stand at the end of the match and like last year against Canada the Eagles were able to hold firm to beat Japan 23-18. Building off their performance against Samoa last week the U.S. saw good attacking play, hard work at the breakdown, and a better scrum that carried them to the win. Japan did experiment with a younger side but that shouldn’t take away from the positives the Eagles displayed in the win.

The Eagles got out to a very bright start as they took it to Japan repeatedly. They dominated the early possession and consistently put themselves in good spots. Eventually their phase play was rewarded as AJ MacGinty slotted his first penalty of the day with only six minutes gone.

Both teams tried to win the territory war over the next few minutes but in the end the momentum still was with the Eagles as they pushed forward repeated. When Japan did have an opportunity the U.S. defense did well to limit their opportunities to move into their own half. At the scrum, the U.S. also had the better of Japan, in a surprisingly dominating way.

Take the jump to read more.

Still, the U.S. were only able to earn penalty attempts. MacGinty had another shot at goal in the 13th minutes after Chris Wyles smartly put a foot past the dead ball line when collecting a long Japanese kick. The U.S. were able to work through a couple of phases setting up MacGinty but the kick missed. Just five minutes later he would have another attempt that he would connect on to push the lead to 6-0.

Through the first twenty minutes the Eagles had to be pleased with their performance. However, Japan were able to claw their way back into the game and when they earned a penalty around the 28th minute Harumichi Tatekawa would connect to cut the lead in half. Still, the U.S. came right back at them and good work at the breakdown from Andrew Durutalo say MacGinty connect on his third penalty of the day to give the Eagles a 9-3 lead.

Unfortunately for the Eagles they weren’t able to hold the lead heading into the half. Some helter skelter play that saw several missed passes gave Japan an opportunity and kept them in the game. Going from their own 40 meter line they put in a great set play that saw Akihito Yamada score in the corner. At the half Japan led 11-9.

The second half saw Japan come out attacking Just like they did at the end of the first half Japan used crisp passing to put the U.S. on their heels. Immediately the Eagles found themselves in trouble as Taku Ngwenya was sent to the bin for intentionally knocking the ball down. It took Japan a few minutes but after putting the U.S. scrum under pressure, number eight Holani Koliniashi easily scored to give Japan an 18-9 lead ten minutes into the half.

It wasn’t all bad and when Japan were judged to have pulled down the maul MacGinty make the kick to make it 18-12. With Ngwenya back on the pitch the U.S. were able to regain the momentum and when Japan were hit again with a penalty as they didn’t roll away, MacGinty made his fifth of the match to put the Eagles down only three at 15-18.

The infringements kept coming and another makable kick put the match level at 18-18. The Eagles then took the lead when Japan were called for obstruction and MacGinty put in a great kick the gave the Eagles an attacking lineout. Off the lineout nearly the entire team joined the maul as Andrew Durutalo crashed over for the try. The conversion missed but the Eagles led 23-18 with 15 minutes left.

Japan seemed to regain their footing shortly after the try and continually put the U.S. under pressure. On several occasions they were nearly able to break through only to have the ball become unplayable or be lost on a knock-on. They repeatedly tried to put the U.S. scrum under pressure but rebounding from their earlier second half struggles the Eagles held firm. The match was only sealed when a Japanese player foolishly went off his feet at the breakdown not only earning a yellow card but also the penalty that would allow the Eagles to kick out for the win.

Overall the Eagles will be thrilled with the win. They did a lot of positive things. Their work at the breakdown was outstanding, their scrum was solid, and they had a lot of the ball in the green zone on offense. Still, it wasn’t perfect. They are still allowing tries on big plays and they allowed Japan to dictate parts of the game. In the end, a win is a win and as a litmus test of where the Eagles stand they have to feel good about themselves.

Tries: Durutalo
Penalties: MacGinty (6)

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