Eagles double-up Italy in Women's World Cup opener

Resilient individual efforts saw Catherine Benson, Naya Tapper and Sara Parsons, the latter of the trio was named Player of the Match, grind out a lot of positive meters with ball in-hand.

DUBLIN, Ireland - The Women's Eagles dominated time of possession on their way to a Women's World Cup-opening victory over Italy, 24-12. In a match that witnessed the victors spoil multiple scoring opportunities, the Eagles still did enough for a vital bonus-point win.

The scoring began in the second-minute when Kris Thomas fended off three Italians before crossing the line for a try that Kimber Rozier would convert. The Eagles continued to keep pressure on the opposition, using multi-phase play to drive the ball deep into the Italian's half. The Americans would score again in the 20th-minute via Rozier, but thwarted several first half possessions due to turnovers.

Due to a knock-on by the Eagles, Italy used the scrum for its platform to produce its first try that would go converted to close the lead to 12-7. USA spent most of the closing 10 minutes of the first half in the Italian's half, but the Eagles' first international competition in over four months came with its share of costly handling errors, and the score remained 12-7 at halftime.

"We knew it was going to be a little rough for us because we haven't played any games," noted Head Coach Pete Steinberg. "That often shows up in an inability to hold onto the ball in contact. In the first half, we were inside their 22 eight times and only came away with two tries."

Turnovers by both sides muddied the first 10 minutes of the second half. Substitute Alev Kelter, the first of several Eagle reserves to make a solid impact, pumped her legs from the Italian 22-meter line to the five-meter line before finally being brought down. The ball was then quickly recycled to the edge, where Thomas ran in for the winger's second try. Rozier's conversion attempt hit the posts for a second time, and the Eagles settled for a 17-7 advantage for the time being.

A team-effort on defense made it difficult for Italy to make inroads on attack, while resilient individual efforts saw Catherine Benson, Naya Tapper and Sara Parsons, the latter of the trio was named Player of the Match, grind out a lot of positive meters with ball in-hand.

Sevens standout Thomas continued her strong performance with a run that setup reserve lock Abby Gustaitis to use her long reach to stretch over the line for the Eagles' fourth try. Kelter knocked in the conversion to lengthen USA's lead, 24-7.

Italy continued backed itself offensively, but the Eagles' defense prevented the opposition from scoring on a number of occasions that appeared inevitable scoring opportunities for Italy. Now down a player after Thomas was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on, Italy used a successful lineout to drive a maul near the goal line. Its first attempt at a pick-and-go was enough to put a second Italian try on the board, 24-12.

Italy returned inside the Eagles' 22-meter line looking for one last score, but a loose ball was kicked out of bounds in full time, and USA claimed its first win of the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup in a four-try bonus point fashion, 24-12, and ended an eight-test losing streak.

"There were things we could've done better, but we prepared for a tough match. It's game on. Everyone's hungry," said full back Cheta Emba, who kept the Italians on their heels with several blistering counter attacks. "The game was what we expected; hard, fast and thankfully we came away with a win."

The Eagles return to the pitch Sunday, Aug. 13 versus Spain at 9:45 a.m. ET. The second pool fixtures for the USA can be viewed live in American using NBC Sports Gold's Rugby Pass, or on the Women's Rugby World Cup website for fans outside of the U.S.


USA Women's Eagles | v. Italy

1. Catie Benson
2. Katy Augustyn
3. Tiffany Faaee (C)
4. Stacey Bridges
5. Alycia Washington
6. Sara Parsons
7. Kate Zackary
8. Jordan Gray
9. Deven Owsiany
10. Kimber Rozier
11. Kristen Thomas
12. Sylvia Braaten
13. Nicole Heavirland
14. Naya Tapper
15. Cheta Emba

USA Women's Eagles | Reserves
16. Samantha Pankey
17. Nai Reddick
18. Hope Rogers
19. Abby Gustaitis
20. Kristine Sommer
21. Kayla Canett-Oca
22. Alev Kelter
23. Jessica Javelet

USA Women's Eagles | Women's Rugby World Cup 2017
v. Spain - Sunday, Aug. 13 @ 9:45 a.m. ET
v. England - Thursday, Aug. 17 @ 9:30 a.m. ET
Semifinals - Tuesday, Aug. 22
Finals - Saturday, Aug. 26