Selects fall to Fiji Warriors at Americas Pacific Challenge

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay -- The USA Rugby Selects took an early lead against Fiji Warriors in their first match of the World Rugby Americas Pacific Challenge at Estadio Charrúa Saturday, but could not hold onto it in a 62-12 defeat.

Head Coach Ray Egan named hooker Joe Taufete'e captain ahead of the match, and the San Diego Breakers professional was forced to deal with the Uruguayan match official Pablo de Luca on multiple occasions as the Selects succumbed to disciplinary issues, sending two men to the sin bin. The squad will look to make amends Wednesday, Oct. 12, when it continues the campaign against Canada. The match will be broadcast live to subscribers on The Rugby Channel from 1:15 p.m. ET.


See USA Rugby Selects roster for Americas Pacific Challenge


The Fijian style of rugby caught the attentions of sports fans around the world during the nation's sevens team's gold-medal triumph at the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games earlier this summer, and the XVs team did not disappoint the crowd Saturday. The Warriors ran at the Selects in the opening minutes of the match and were not afraid to put the ball in the air, but the U.S. backs intelligently moved the ball quickly to avoid turnovers. Knocks hurt the Selects' momentum, but they were given a lifeline in the fourth minute when a Fijian clearance found touch on the full. Te'o grubbered a ball through the defense 15 meters out and, though it eluded Brett Thompson, Matai Leuta was there to put five points on the scoreboard.

The sixth-minute lead did not last long, however, as loose forward Vasikali Mudu blocked a JP Eloff kick deep in the U.S. half for Iferemi Tovilevu to tie the game in the seventh minute. Despite finding space via the shifty backs and strong-running forwards, the Selects ran into penalty and turnover trouble as the half waned. A 15th-minute lineout to Fiji was stolen by Eloff just meters in front of the try line before he lost the ball, and the Warriors utilized their offloads with maximum efficiency to put Fredrick Hickes into the in-goal area for a 12-5 lead.

Leuta did well to keep the Selects' attack from running into touch as it neared the corner minutes later, but Thompson could not replicate the try-scoring combination, losing the pass forward. Fiji moved to the opposite end of the field in the 25th minute only to have a Select tap a pass into touch. The U.S. held the scrum steady and withstood a few attacks along the try line until the penalties started piling up, while it got worse when prop Mason Pedersen had to leave the field due to an injury. Chance Wenglewski filled in the empty front row spot, but Fiji No. 8 Eremasi Radrodro took the ball from the set piece in the 28th minute over the line to extend the Warriors lead to 17-5.

A long break from Te'o in the 33rd minute would have seen Leuta in for his second of the game had the final pass not been knocked backwards. It was double disappointment for the Selects as Indiana University's Bryce Campbell chased Mudu into the try zone and knocked the ball out of the Fijian's hands for Thompson to dot down, but a brief review confirmed the five-meter scrum for Fiji. A forward pass in their own half doomed the Selects to a defensive session, in which successive penalties gave de Luca no choice but to send center Martin Iosefo to the sin bin.

Harry Higgins got a hand under the ball as prop Mesake Doge dove over the try line in the final minute of the half, but the try was given for a 24-5 deficit after 40 minutes.

The Selects showed signs of continuity throughout the match, and were rewarded seven minutes into the second frame - after prop Demecus Beach was sent to the bin for 10 minutes - when Pat Blair found Stephen Tomasin at the back of a maul driving towards the in-goal area. The scrum half darted into a gap and dotted down behind the uprights for Eloff's conversion, bringing the score to 24-12.

The try was the last the Selects would score in the game, with the Warriors running in six second-half tries to see out the victory. Egan was able to utilize his bench, sending young All-America stalwarts Ben Cima and Hanco Germishuys onto the pitch with Mason Al-Jiboori and Christian Ostberg also receiving game time. Despite the wide score line, the U.S. continued to create opportunities and found its rhythm at times.

The Selects' second match of the Americas Pacific Challenge is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 12, against Canada 'A' at Estadio Charrúa. Egan and Co. will look to see the squad improve in the coming days to be prepared for the rivalry match, which will be broadcast live to subscribers of The Rugby Channel.

USA Rugby Selects | v. Fiji Warriors
1. Mason Pedersen (Wenglewski @ 27')
2. Joseph Taufete'e (C)
3. Demecus Beach (Maughan @ 68')
4. Siaosi Mahoni (Al-Jiboori @ 55')
5. Matthew Jensen (Ostberg @ 68')
6. Harry Higgins
7. Pat Blair
8. Sione Tu'ihalamaka
9. Stephen Tomasin (Boyer @ 72')
10. Jean-Pierre Eloff (Cima @ 61')
11. Mataiyasi Leuta (Harajly @ 61')
12. Martin Iosefo
13. Bryce Campbell
14. Brett Thompson
15. Mike Te'o

USA Rugby Selects | Reserves
16. Hanco Germishuys
17. Chance Wenglewski
18. Alex Maughan
19. Christian Ostberg
20. Malon Al-Jiboori
21. Nicklas Boyer
22. Benjamin Cima
23. Ahmad Harajly

Fiji Warriors | v. USA
1. Joeli Veitayaki
2. Seremaia Naureure
3. Mesake Doge
4. Rupeni Nasiga (C)
5. Mesulame Kunavula
6. Nemani Nagusa
7. Vasikali Mudu
8. Eremasi Radrodro
9. Henry Seniloli
10. Alivereti Veitokani
11. Fredrick Hickes
12. Eroni Vasiteri
13. Iferemi Tovilevu
14. Apete Daveta
15. Lepani Raiyala

Fiji Warriors | Reserves
16. Mosese Digo
17. Iliesa Leca
18. Kalivati Tawake
19. Sefanaia Nadruka
20. Esikia Macu
21. Sakiusa Gavidi
22. Ilimeleki Leiloma
23. Sitiveni Kunaga

USA Rugby Selects | 12
Tries: Leuta, Tomasin
Conversions: Eloff
Discipline: Iosefo (Yellow), Beach (Yellow)

Fiji Warriors | 62
Tries: Tovilevu, Hickes, Radrodro (2), Doge, Veitokani, Penalty Try, Mudu, Nadruka, Daveta
Conversions: Veitokani (6)

Americas Pacific Challenge | Tournament Schedule

Round Date Team Team Time (ET)
1 Oct. 8 Argentina XV 56-29 Canada A 11 a.m.
USA Rugby Selects
12-62 Fiji Warriors 1:15 p.m.
Samoa A 44-42 Uruguay A 3:30 p.m.
2 Oct. 12 Samoa A v Fiji Warriors 11 a.m.
USA Rugby Selects
v Canada A 1:15 p.m.
Argentina XV v Uruguay A 3:30 p.m.
3 Oct. 16 Samoa A v Canada A 11 a.m.
USA Rugby Selects
v Uruguay A 1:15 p.m.
Argentina XV v Fiji Warriors 3:30 p.m.