USA Exits Rugby World Cup With Tonga Loss

The USA lost 31-19 to Tonga on 13 October at Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka Prefecture, Higashiosaka City in both teams’ concluding 2019 Rugby World Cup match. The USA led 12-7 at the break.

The Saturday match between England and France was canceled due to Typhoon Hagibus which resulted in a draw. This had England winning the Pool with 17 points, France in second with 15, Argentina with 11, Tonga with 6, and the USA with zero.

While the match between England and France could not have been played on Saturday, it could have been postponed to Monday. By not doing so, quarterfinal matches with Pool D could have been changed had France won against England. Pool D could have also been affected if Italy could have beaten New Zealand if that match was postponed to Monday as well.

It was also disappointing for the match between Canada and Namibia to not be postponed, as both teams wanted to exit the RWC with a win. The conditions in that area were devastating and the safety of all was affected.

The USA opened the Rugby World Cup with a 45-7 loss to England, a 33-9 loss to France, and a 47-17 loss to Argentina, and exited the RWC winless.

Tonga finished 1-3 in the tournament after losing to England 35-3, to Argentina 28-12,  to France 23-21 prior to beating the USA.

Match Recap

Tonga kicked off to the USA to begin the match with Malon Al-Jiboori, who is debuting at the RWC, gathering the ball. A turnover to Tonga had them going through multiple phases before the USA was able to clear.

Tonga advanced near in-goal, however, Siegfried Fisi’ihoi knocked on the ball on the tackle, resulting in a 5-meter scrum to the USA. Ruben De Hass then cleared.

AJ MacGinty kicked for territory with Marcel Brache chasing as the ball bounced into touch at Tonga’s 22-meters. Tonga cleared from the lineout.

Tonga counterattacked after picking up a grub kick by Scully and advanced the ball inside the USA 22-meters before a penalty allowed the USA to clear.

The USA miscue from a lineout and an errant pass by Tonga gave the ball back to the Eagles under pressure. A Ruben de Haas box kick gave the team some breathing room as they continued to attack. Another box kick then gave Tonga the ball at their 22-meters.

Tonga countered with a strong run by Viliami Lolohea with multiple missed tackles. Siegfried Fisi’ihoi finished with a try with Sonatane Takulua slotting the extras for a 7-0 lead.

Mike Te’o entered the match in the 20th minute for captain Blaine Scully with Eric Fry also exiting and Olive Kilifi at loosehead prop. Te’o made his presence felt receiving an offload by Cam Dolan and finishing with a try. AJ MacGinty slotted the extras to level the match at 7 all.

The USA attacked again from a lineout and Will Hooley passed the ball wide to Te’o for a brace in the right corner to take a 12-7 lead. MacGinty’s conversion attempt was wide.

The ensuing restart was muffed by Al-Jiboori, resulting in a Tonga scrum about 15 meters from in-goal. A Tonga knock-on by Siale Piutau gave the USA a scrum with MacGinty clearing for a Tonga lineout.

Tonga advanced inside the USA 22-meters going through 13 phases before stealing the ball and MacGinly clearing. Both Brache and De Haas chased down the kick with Zane Kapeli gathering and Tonga clearing.

A Lamborn penalty for being offsides had Tonga kicking for territory and after the lineout, Siegfried Fisi’ihoi lost the ball forward just prior to crossing in-goal. This gave the Eagles a 5-meter scrum and cleared again.

A steal of a Tonga lineout had the USA in Tongan territory, but a turnover resulted. Another USA attack was thwarted by a knock-on in the final minute, giving Tonga a scrum. Tonga drove, created a penalty, and had them attacking from a lineout. A knock-on ended the half with the USA leading 12-7 despite Tonga having most of the scoring chances in the half.

During the first half, Tonga had 69% of the territory, carried for 363 meters to USA’s 151, had the USA making 82 tackles to 42 for Tonga, and a telling statistic was that the USA also missed 31 tackles, while Tonga missed 10.

Tongan handling errors cost them dearly as they should rightfully be leading. That’s rugby and it is still anyone’s match.

Second Half

Tactical kicking placed Tonga under pressure from a lineout 7 meters from in-goal. Tonga gathered the ball and then cleared giving the USA a lineout. A handling error gave Tonga a scrum and they spun the ball left with fullback Telusa Veaniu passing the ball into touch stopping a sure try.

Tonga went through ten phases and the USA defensive hit by Al-Jiboori resulted in a turnover and allowed the team to clear.

A penalty by Paul LAsike for leaving his feet at a breakdown had Sonatane Takulua slotting a penalty goal to cut the lead to 12-10.

With the short turn around for the USA, the team elected to have six forwards as reserves. A number of replacements were made in this fast-paced match.

AJ MacGinty kicked ahead and the bounce had the ball being kicked into touch. After Tonga gave the ball back to the USA, the team went through 20 phases before Nick Civetta lost the ball forward. Tonga fullback Veainu broke then chipped ahead, gathered, and offloaded to Afa Pakalani, who passed inside to Mail Hingano for the try. Takulua slotted the extras for Tonga to reclaim the lead 17-12.

That would turn out to be the key play as instead of the USA extending its lead, Tonga had the upper hand. Tonga struck again with a try by captain Siale Piutau with James Faiva adding the extras to lead 24-12.

The USA tried to answer back as they moved inside the Tonga 22-meters, but an offsides call turned the ball over to Tonga.

The USA advanced again to meters of in-goal, but the support of the run by Civetta was late and the USA was penalized.

James Hilterbrand entered the match, the final of the 31 players to appear in RWC matches. The USA continued to leave everything out on the pitch and attacked with the knowledge they needed to score quickly. A kick had Hanco Germishuys covering and driving Faiva into touch within meters from in-goal.

The USA attacked form a lineout 5-meters out with Tony Lamborn scoring from close range after a TMO and MacGinty adding the extras to cut the lead to 24-19 with three minutes remaining.

The restart was kicked deep to the USA and a knock-on gave Tonga a scrum about 15 meters from in-goal. Telusa Veninu added a try in the 80th minute with Siale Piutau adding his first conversion for a final of 31-19 to Tonga.

Player of the Match honors went to Siale Piutau, who announced his retirement from international test rugby.

The USA played with intensity and their effort continued throughout the match. Credit Tonga for playing well and for a deserved win, their first RWC win in 2019. The USA went winless at the RWC in 2019 and has lost ten consecutive RWC matches since 2011.

After the 2015 RWC, the USA changed coaches, with Gary Gold coming in two years later. Accomplishments include beating a Tier 1 nation in Scotland.

The team is moving in the right direction with the USA team is a professional side. Four more years of Major League Rugby and with other opportunities being available in other leagues, the team is poised to change RWC results in 2023.

It is time to step back and assess team strengths, make improvements going forward and continue its positive strides. The USA also looks forward to potentially hosting the Rugby World Cup in either 2027 or in 2031.

Squads & Match Preview

USA: 1. Eric Fry 2. Joe Taufete’e 3. Titi Lamositele 4. Greg Peterson 5. Nick Civetta 6. Tony Lamborn 7. Malon Al-Jiboori 8. Cam Dolan 9. Ruben de Haas 10. AJ MacGinty 11. Marcel Brache 12. Paul Lasike 13. Bryce Campbell 14. Blaine Scully (capt.) 15. Will Hooley 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:1 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 2 Paula Ngauamo, 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 4 Sam Lousi, 5 Leva Fifita, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Zane Kapeli, 8 Ma’ama Vaipulu, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 10 James Faiva, 11 Viliami Lolohea, 12 Siale Piutau (capt.), 13 Mali Hingano, 14 Afa Pakalani, 15 Telusa Veainu16 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)

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North American Rugby News With A USA Slant