Time runs out on Eagles in San Jose

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Avaya Stadium hosted its first rugby match Saturday night, a 21-16 Samoa defeat of the Men's Eagles in the teams' first match of the 2015 World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup.

Titi Lamositele scored the first try of his career, and the U.S.'s sole try on the night, as the Eagles wore down the visitors over 80 minutes, attempting to overturn a 21-3, first-half deficit. Head Coach Mike Tolkin capped two new Eagles in AJ MacGinty, who started at fly half, and Zack Test in front of a crowd of 10,017.

Despite only a handful of players returning from Samoa's first-ever home match against New Zealand, the visiting team's physical style of play carried over in San Jose. The Eagles were kept from possession in the first 10 minutes due to Samoa's strong play in the breakdown and free-flowing passing.

In the fourth minute, Taku Ngwenya drew the ire of English referee JP Doyle for not releasing in the tackle. Patrick Faapale placed the tee a few inches from the touch line and kicked the ball through the uprights to give his side a 3-0 lead. A second attempt a minute later from a better angle missed wide.

Alesana Tuilagi's ninth-minute run from midfield saw U.S. captain Chris Wyles knocked to the ground before Danny Barrett was able to take the winger into touch meters from the try line. MacGinty was forced to clear the danger after the lineout win, and Samoa kept the ball through another few phases.

Faapale slotted his second three-pointer in the 15th minute to extend the lead to 6-0. Samoa committed its first knock on the other side of the restart, settling play for the Eagles. A lineout within 10 meters of the try line proved fruitless, however, as the U.S. was kept from crossing over the line.

MacGinty was given the opportunity to score his first points in an Eagles shirt and rose to the occasion, slotting a penalty goal midway through the half. Samoa responded in the 23rd minute with Faapale's third penalty of the night to restore the six-point lead at 9-3.

MacGinty's restart sailed just over the hands of a lifted Samoan, and Blaine Scully read the play perfectly from the wing to slide and gather for his team. Samoa regained possession after a kick into the corner, and a few penalties against the U.S. helped the visiting team control most of the play for a few minutes.

Barrett stole Samoa's lineout inside the Eagles' half in the 30th minute, and the U.S. kept possession until it reached Ngwenya. The winger raced away from two defenders nearly half the length of the pitch before being brought down, and his offload was intercepted.

Two minutes later, the Eagles stole another lineout deep inside their own half, but MacGinty's clearance kick was taken cleanly by Ah See Tuala. The full back exploited the chasing, stretched defense and was able to get a clean offload to an onrushing Alesana Tuilaga for the match's opening try. Faapale's conversion extended his side's lead to 16-3.

Alesana Tuilagi grubbered the ball into the U.S.'s half from midfield in the 35th minute for his teammate to chase. Ngwenya pressured the Samoan as he nudged it towards the try line, but was penalized as Wyles tracked back to offer support. The tap was taken quickly and Alesana Tuilagi chip-kicked the ball to the far wing for See Tuala to dot down in space.

MacGinty attempted to dent Samoa's 21-3 lead with a penalty attempt on the stroke of halftime, but the windy confines of Avaya Stadium betrayed the debutant, pushing the kick just wide.

While two tries in the final 10 minutes of the half overstated Samoa's advantage, the Eagles rued the early deficit.

"We can't spot a good team like Samoa as many points as we did in that first half," Scully said following the match. "We have a no-victim mentality; it's about putting together 80-minute games."

The Eagles came out of the break with an added impetus, and an early penalty against Samoa allowed MacGinty to set up an attacking platform at the 22 with a lineout. The ball was lost forward on the opposite side of the pitch to end the attack, but the U.S. continued to force turnovers and keep Samoa from the offensive half.

Wyles opted for a lineout when Samoa committed a penalty within 15 meters of its own try line, but the driving maul could not get over the line.

MacGinty's cross-pitch kick was caught by Samoa, but the backs pressured on defense and drew a penalty call. The fly half cut Samoa's lead to 21-6 with the penalty goal.

Alesana Tuilagi nearly played a part in a third try in the 60th minute when he received a behind-the-back offload against the grain, but he lost control to give the U.S. a scrum.

Mike Petri replaced Shalom Suniula, who earned his first start at scrum half for the Eagles Saturday.

"I was excited for Shalom; he's a fantastic player," Petri said after the match. "He has great skills. I knew he'd get the job done and he did - he did a great job leading the boys. I knew when my number was called I just had to bring some energy and try and lift the boys at the end of the game. He set a good platform for me to give my best effort to do that."

Petri rolled the ball into the scrum and the Eagles moved up the pitch before Alesana Tuilagi was penalized for a late hit on Scully. MacGinty turned the advantage into points with a penalty goal to bring the score to 21-9.

The momentum swung the way of the Eagles in the following minutes, capped by a close call in the 69th minute when Scully grubbered the ball into the try zone. Samoa was able to clear the danger, but was under pressure again as MacGinty sidestepped a defender at the 22. Samoa created a turnover before losing possession to a knock.

Petri set up his fly half for another run with a quick pop pass from the pitch, but the Eagles were held up before they could dot down in-goal. The U.S. won the scrum and sent crash ball after crash ball at the Samoan defense, and Lamositele, who replaced Mate Moeakiola in the 24th minute, touched the ball down on the line to score.

With five minutes remaining in a one-possession game at 21-16, the U.S. made Samoa work for its victory. The visitors were called for a high tackle two minutes from time and the Eagles confidently spread the ball around the pitch, looking for another five-pointer.

Doyle penalized the Eagles after a few phases, however, and Samoa was able to hold the ball in a lineout before kicking to touch to end the match.

"We spotted them 21 points," Tolkin said. "We let them get up to that big lead; we were playing catch-up. The first half was a bit lethargic. In the second half we had some players come on that showed they had some pep in their step.

"Bringing any team together, it takes a rhythm to develop that attack. The second half they felt more comfortable, they dominated territory, and they dominated possession. We just have to not give up 21 points at the beginning of the game."

The Eagles will face Japan in their second match of the Pacific Nations Cup Friday, July 24, in Sacramento. The Cherry Blossoms defeated Canada at Avaya Stadium, 20-6, prior to the U.S.'s kickoff. Following a second consecutive week in California, the team will head north of the border to finish the competition with two additional matches before the final Rugby World Cup build-up in August and September.

"The immediate feeling right now is obviously one of extreme disappointment and frustration, that we were right there and knocking on the door," Petri said. "We couldn't finish it. The one thing we need to keep in the bank is that it's a long summer; it's a process. This is phase one, step one. We'll learn from this one, watch the film, and improve week in, week out, over the next two months."

Fiji and Samoa will open the festivities at Bonney Field Friday at 5 p.m. PT before the home team takes on Japan at 8 p.m. PT. Both matches will be available to view on ESPN 3 and the WatchESPN platform, while @USARugby will provide live match updates on Twitter.

Men's Eagles | v. Samoa

1. Eric Fry

2. Phil Thiel (Fenoglio @ 59')

3. Matekitonga Moeakiola (Lamositele @ 24')

4. Hayden Smith (Durutalo @ 65')

5. Greg Peterson (LaValla @ 51')

6. Cameron Dolan

7. John Quill

8. Danny Barrett

9. Shalom Suniula (Petri @ 61')

10. AJ MacGinty

11. Blaine Scully

12. Thretton Palamo (A. Suniula @ 63')

13. Seamus Kelly

14. Takudzwa Ngwenya (Test @ 73')

15. Chris Wyles (C)

Men's Eagles | Reserves

16. Zach Fenoglio

17. Chris Baumann

18. Titi Lamositele

19. Scott LaValla

20. Andrew Durutalo

21. Mike Petri

22. Andrew Suniula

23. Zack Test

Samoa | v. USA

1. Sakaria Taulafo (Afatia @ 53')

2. Manu Leiataua (Matuu @ 53')

3. Anthony Perenise

4. Teofilo Paulo (Paulino @ 70')

5. Faatiga Lemalu

6. TJ Ioane

7. Jack Lam

8. Vavae Tuilagi (Faafou @ 64')

9. Vavao Afemai (Cowley @ 75')

10. Patrick Faapale

11. Alesana Tuilagi (C)

12. Faialaga Afamasaga (Leota @ 61')

13. Paul Perez

14. Sinoti Sinoti

15. Ah See Tuala (Autagavaia @ 70')

Samoa | Reserves

16. Motu Matuu

17. Viliamu Afatia

18. Jake Grey

19. Maselino Paulino

20. Oneone Faafou

21. Pele Cowley

22. Johnny Leota

23. Gaatoina Autagavaia

Men's Eagles | 16

Tries: Lamositele

Conversions: MacGinty

Penalties: MacGinty (3)

Samoa | 21

Tries: A. Tuilagi, See Tuala

Conversions: Faapale

Penalties: Faapale (3)

Men's Eagles | Pacific Nations Cup

v. Samoa - L 21-16

v. Japan - Friday, July 24 - 8 p.m. PT - Bonney Field - Sacramento, Calif.

v. Tonga - Wednesday, July 29 - 3:30 p.m. ET - BMO Field - Toronto, Ontario

Finals Day (matchup/kickoff time TBD) - Monday, Aug. 3 - Swangard Stadium - Burnaby, British Columbia