New Zealand overcomes deficit to down Eagles

HONG KONG, China – The Men’s Eagles Sevens took an early lead against New Zealand in the last match of Pool B group play at the Cathay Pacific HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, but failed to hold the lead for the remainder of the match and lost 24-12. The Eagles will now enter the Bowl Quarterfinals against Scotland on Sunday.

Andrew Durutalo and Folau Niua were rewarded with starting spots against the All Blacks after their showing against France earlier in the day, including Duruatalo’s efficient tackling.

Matt Hawkins forced a turnover at the Eagles’ own 22, and a kick out wide and deep destined for Carlin Isles was chased down by the former sprinter. A Kiwi gained possession before an Isles tackle, forcing a New Zealand penalty.

The scrum to the Eagles was recovered and Nick Edwards, in his second consecutive start, burst through the New Zealand defense and stayed on his feet dragging several defenders for a few extra meters to offload to Hawkins, who touched the ball down in the try zone for the opening score. Shalom Suniula missed the sideline conversion just wide for a slim 5-0 lead in the third minute.

New Zealand gained possession from the ensuing kickoff and a single pass to Ben Lam was all the All Blacks needed for the scoreboard reply. Lam broke two tackles on his way to the try zone and not even Isles could catch him. Rocky Khan nailed the conversion for the 7-5 lead.

Isles forced a New Zealand penalty and Trinity Spooner-Neera committed a yellow card offense to put the Eagles up a man with less than a minute remaining. It took a bit longer than a minute, but Niua’s heads-up work after a tackle to find an oncoming Hawkins resulted in the Eagles’ second lead of the match. Hawkins’ third try of the tournament was converted by Suniula, and the Eagles took a 12-7 lead into the half.

With Spooner-Neera back on the field in the second half to even the sides, the All Blacks enjoyed some extended possession, but could not get past a stout Eagles defense until a switch created space for Spooner-Neera to tie the match. It stayed tied, as Khan’s conversion missed wide.

Second-half substitute Colin Hawley showed off his fresh legs in space to help the Eagles down the field, but yet another Eagles’ penalty halted their own offense. New Zealand’s own substitute Tim Mikkelson found himself down the right-hand sideline in trouble and handed the ball off to Khan, who outran Hawley for the score. Khan’s conversion was missed again, keeping the Eagles within striking distance at 17-12.

Brett Thompson made his first appearance of the tournament late in the second half, but was put in an unfortunate position as time was expiring. Hawley, on the ground in a ruck, passed the ball out to Niua for one last Eagles offensive. Niua’s pass was behind his teammates, however, and Thompson was forced to kick the ball into his own try zone to keep it away from New Zealand. Though he kept after the ball, Gillies Kaka beat him to it and had the ball in hand for less than a second before triumphantly touching it down. Khan’s conversion made the final score 24-12.

With the Eagles’ Pool B opponents each winning at least one game, Head Coach Alex Magleby’s team will compete for the Bowl on Sunday. Though it may be disappointing after a Cup Quarterfinals appearance at Vegas Sevens in February, there are still points to be gained in the Bowl competition. Currently in 13th in the IRB HSBC Sevens World Series, the Eagles need to gain as many points as they can to keep out of the relegation battle.

Follow the Eagles in Hong Kong with the USA Rugby Twitter account (@USARugby) as they look to win the Bowl on Sunday.

Men’s Eagles Sevens | vs. New Zealand
Tries: Hawkins (2)
Conversions: Suniula

Men’s Eagles Sevens | Bowl Quarterfinals
vs. Scotland - 10:45 P.M. ET Saturday, March 23