Five tries lead Tonga over Eagles in Gloucester

"Momentum is massive in international rugby, especially when playing a team like Tonga."

GLOUCESTER, England - The Men's Eagles book-ended the first 40 minutes of their match against Tonga at Kingsholm Stadium Saturday with tries, but conceded four in the second frame of a 40-12 loss.

Tim Stanfill recorded his second try in as many matches in the fourth minute. Fly half Shalom Suniula slipped a pass to full back Folau Niua, who dummied a pass to the winger to split between the defenders. At Tonga's 22, Niua perfectly-timed a pass to Stanfill for the Seattle Saracen to speed in-goal for the match's first try. Niua completed the score with the conversion for a 7-0 Eagles lead.

Tonga drew a penalty inside the Eagles' half in the eighth minute and the Sea Eagles opted for points. Fly half Kurt Morath slotted the kick for a 7-3 scoreline.

A scrum in the 13th minute resulted in a penalty against the Eagles and a lineout inside their own 22. Tonga won its lineout and a pop pass to a cutting Fetu'u Vainikolo gave the wing enough burst to turn the Eagles defenders the wrong way. He scored Tonga's first try on the opposite side of the pitch. The conversion kick by Morath missed wide, leaving Tonga's lead at just one point, 8-7.

The Eagles were penalized in another scrum minutes later but held strong along the try line after the lineout. John Cullen committed an infraction in the 20th minute, and Morath extended his side's lead to 11-7 with the penalty kick.

The momentum did not favor the Eagles in the following minutes, as Niua missed a penalty kick attempt and captain Scott LaValla was sent to the sin bin for disrupting a potential scoring play. Tonga charged to the try line only to meet a stingy defense. Sea Eagles captain Nili Latu recognized his advantage for an Eagle lining up offside and sent a grubber kick in-goal and into touch.

Referee Mike Fraser called play back to for the penalty and Morath successfully kicked the conversion.

Down, 14-7, and a player, the Eagles sustained more pressure from their opponents and were saved by a diving grounding in-goal by Mike Petri. Tonga turned over possession in the 31st minute and the Eagles managed to clear and draw a penalty downfield. The Sea Eagles were penalized in a scrum, which gave the men wearing blue their first set possession in minutes. LaValla returned to the pitch to end Tonga's advantage and the "extra" man added to the attack. Niua set up a lineout within five meters of Tonga's try line and John Quill dove over from the ensuing maul for the try.

The 8,949 fans at the home of Gloucester Rugby applauded both teams as they went into halftime with Tonga leading, 14-12. Head Coach Mike Tolkin knew his side showed poise to keep Tonga to just three points with the man advantage and build off of the momentum.

"Momentum is massive in international rugby, especially when playing a team like Tonga," he said. "They live off it. They also struggle a bit when they are on the other end of it. The yellow card took some away and the missed penalty straight after halftime was a golden opportunity to build on it."

Niua's missed penalty kick two minutes into the second half set the tone for most of the final period of play. Though the Eagles held up a maul in-goal in the 46th minute, they conceded a try in the 50th minute after just one offensive phase from Tonga. Viliami Ma'afu dotted down for the Sea Eagles, who took a 21-12 lead following the successful conversion.

Two more tries in less than five minutes sucked the air out of the U.S. supporters at Kingsholm Stadium. Stanfill ran around a defender on the wing to give the Eagles a territorial advantage, but Tonga stole the ball. Stanfill chased down his opposite number before the Tongan fed Vungakoto Lilo in space for the try. Sloppy passing outside the uprights a minute later offered a loose ball to David Halaifonua, who promptly dotted down for a 33-12 lead.

The Eagles, buoyed by the additions of Todd Clever, Thretton Palamo, and Tai Tuisamoa, held their longest spell of possession for nearly 10 minutes, but could not find a way onto the scoreboard. Latu capped the match with a try in the 79th minute to bring the final score to 40-12.

Missed points for the Eagles in the kicking game could have changed the shape of the match, which gave first-time starters John Cullen and Greg Peterson precious international test time ahead of next year's Rugby World Cup. Tolkin said the first half of Saturday's match was "neck and neck," but a leaky defense was ultimately exploited by the creative offense of Tonga in the second half.

"We asked a heck of a lot from some players without a lot of experience in key positions, never mind that they were in pivotal tactical positions, so inconsistency in kicking wasn't a total surprise," he said.

"Defense was not as sharp as it was versus Romania. As we knew, a very different dynamic was coming at us and when we leaked around the rucks and where we left holes we paid the price in lost real estate and gave them what we didn't want to: momentum."

The Eagles have one match remaining on their November Tour. Fiji, losers of three consecutive matches, will meet the U.S. at Stade de la Rabine in Vanne, France, Friday, Nov. 21. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET and can be viewed live on IRB Live. Follow live match updates on Twitter with @USARugby.

Men's Eagles | v Tonga
1. Nick Wallace
2. Phil Thiel
3. Mate Moeakiola
4. John Cullen
5. Greg Peterson
6. Scott LaValla (C)
7. John Quill
8. Matt Trouville
9. Mike Petri
10. Shalom Suniula
11. Tim Stanfill
12. Andrew Suniula
13. Seamus Kelly
14. Tim Maupin
15. Folau Niua

Men's Eagles | Reserves
16. Tom Coolican (@ 62')
17. Angus Maclellan
18. Benjamin Tarr (@ 65')
19. Tai Tuisamoa (@ 57')
20. Kyle Sumsion (@ 64')
21. Todd Clever (@ 62')
22. Thretton Palamo (@ 57')
23. Ronald McLean

Tonga | Starting XV
1. Tevita Mailau
2. Aleki Lutui
3. Paea Fa'anunu
4. Tukulua Lokotui
5. Joe Tu'ineau
6. Sione Kalamafoni
7. Nili Latu (C)
8. Viliami Ma'afu
9. Sonatane Takulua
10. Kurt Morath
11. Fetu'u Vainikolo
12. Hermani Paea
13. Siale Piutau
14. David Halaifonua
15. Vungakoto Lilo

Tonga | Reserves
16. Elvis Taione (@ 57')
17. Sione Lea (@ 59')
18. Sila Puafisi (@ 57')
19. Lisiate Fa'aoso (@ 69')
20. Hale T Pole (@ 69')
21. Taniula Moa (@ 69')
22. Latiume Fosita (@ 54')
23. Otulea Katoa (@ 64')

Men's Eagles | 12
Tries: Stanfill, Quill
Conversions: Niua
Discipline: LaValla (Yellow)

Tonga | 40
Tries: Vainikolo, Ma'afu, Lilo, Halaifonua, Latu
Conversions: Morath (2), Fosita
Penalties: Moreath (3)

Men's Eagles | November Tour
v Fiji - Stade de la Rabine (Vannes, France) - Nov. 21 @ 1 p.m. ET