Tonga pick up their first win of Japan 2019 while USA are left empty-handed again

2019 Rugby World Cup: Tonga 31-19 USA

Head-to-head

Played – 10

USA wins – 1

Tonga wins – 9

Did You Know?

  • Wing Blaine Scully played his 11th World Cup match, equalling the USA record that is shared by Chris Wyles and Mike MacDonald.
  • Sione Kalamafoni and Siale Piutau played their 12th World Cup match, breaking the previous Tonga record of 11 shared by Soane Tonga’uiha and Vunga Lilo.
  • Both men retired from international rugby after the match, Piutau’s final appearance for Tonga coming on his 34th birthday.
  • Telusa Veainu made 25 carries in the game, covering 157m out of a team total of 632.
  • Hooker James Hilterbrand’s late summons off the bench meant every player in USA’s original 31-man squad appeared in the tournament.

Related: Rugby World Cup Fixtures

In a nutshell

Tonga ended their World Cup on a high, registering their first victory of Japan 2019 with a bonus-point success against the Eagles in Osaka. USA’s winless run at World Cups extends to ten matches and they join Russia in finishing the tournament without any points.

Tonga captain Siale Piutau got the fairy-tale ending he wanted, converting the last-minute try by Telusa Veainu to bring his distinguished international career to a fitting conclusion. The Bristol centre had earlier crossed for Tonga’s third try and, on the day of his 34th birthday, he was awarded the Man of the Match gong. They say good things come in threes.

The islanders always looked likely to prevail against an American team having to cope with a four-day turnaround. However, Tonga let themselves down with slopping handling – nine errors in the opposition 22 alone in the first half – and profligacy in attack.

Loosehead Siegfried Fisi’ihoi got them up and running by scoring from a pick and go but later knocked the ball on with the line at his mercy, albeit that Eagles scrum-half Ruben de Haas did superbly to target the ball in his last-ditch tackle.

Veainu, the game’s most dangerous runner, butchered a try with a wayway pass to Viliami Lolohea just after half-time and soon after Tonga ignored a massive overlap.

Mascot at USA v Tonga, RWC 2019

Thumbs up: fans pose with the Higashiosaka City mascot Try-kun prior to the match (World Rugby)

Yet Tonga were able to strike the blows that brought home the bacon. Veainu’s kick downfield after a turnover near his own line led to centre Malietoa Hingano putting them ahead on 57 minutes and then, after a try-saving tackle by Marcel Brache on Sione Kalamafoni, Piutau went over on the left.

The conversions took Tonga 24-12 clear and a lull followed, the match seemingly fizzling out disappointingly, with no sign of the energy and intent that had illuminated the first period.

Flanker Tony Lamborn’s late try, grounding the ball against the post protector, revived USA hopes before a finale to gladden the heart of any script writer.

Piutau had the option of kicking a penalty in the final minute to make the win safe but chose to go for a scrum and a well-weighted grubber behind the onrushing defenders enabled Veainu to score a record fifth World Cup try for Tonga. Piutau landed the simple conversion, the ball held for him by Kalamafoni, who has also now called time on a fabulous Test career.

USA were left forlorn again but they contributed immensely. Having struggled against the attacking waves in the first quarter, they struck back when Mike Te’o, only just on for the injured Blaine Scully, scored on 20 minutes after Cam Dolan’s offload, although he nearly failed to touch down before the dead-ball line.

Five minutes later he was at it again, taking Will Hooley’s long pass to score in the same corner. Piutau was clearly flustered, arguing about a perceived knock-on with referee Nigel Owens. But USA’s 12-7 half-time lead was soon to evaporate.

Siale Piutau of Tonga

Colossus: Siale Piutau will be missed by Tonga (Getty)

Star man – Siale Piutau

Tonga’s captain has played all 12 of his country’s matches across the last three World Cups and never fails to impress.

He invariably makes the right calls, which often means trying to get Telusa Veainu on the ball, and he was able to mark his 43rd and final Test appearance with his sixth try.

His decision to go for the bonus-point try at the end was one for the romantics and it paid off handsomely. Would he tempted to go back on his retirement decision if and when his brother Charles qualifies for Tonga? Only time will tell.

The reaction – Tonga

Tonga captain Siale Piutau: “We spoke all week about us deserving to play well and to finish on a high. This brought out the boys in the face of adversity and we’ve put in a performance and hopefully made our people proud.

“We came out with the mindset that we played Tier One nations. We came with the mindset just to leave it all out there, leave no stones unturned. We did that today.”

On his future: “I’ve hung up my boots as a player but I see myself coming back, hopefully as a coach. I want to keep giving back. There’s a calling for me to keep being a part of this team.”

On kicking the final conversion: “I’ve never taken one before and I didn’t want to take it but they insisted. I certainly didn’t want to miss it because I’d have become an online meme.”

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu: “All the effort that we put in over the last two months, I’m really proud of the boys, they deserved to finish off the tournament with a win.”

On the team electing to take a scrum rather than kick at goal in the last minute: “I was thinking, ‘What idiot made that decision?’ But what do you do? I’ve aged about ten years in the last two months, so that’s nothing, I’m used to something like that.”

Tonga do the Sipi Tau v USA

Laying down the challenge: Tonga perform the Sipi Tau before the game at Hanazono Rugby Stadium

On captain Siale Piutau’s contribution over the years: “He’s been a great servant for his country. If you’re looking at what you want from a leader, he is what it represents. On and off the field he’s been fantastic, humble, respectful and all the guys will follow him.”

On his team not receiving a single yellow card at the tournament: “We’ve ended up on the top as the most disciplined side. Who would have thought that coming into the tournament?”

The reaction – USA

USA coach Gary Gold: “We spoke before the game about taking opportunities. We had a fantastic passage of play for 18 phases and we lose the ball and they run the length of the field and that was the game gone right there. So I’m bitterly disappointed. I thought the guys tried really, really hard today but it wasn’t to be.”

USA rugby fans

Stars and stripes: USA fans were out in force, Eagles skipper Blaine Scully paying them tribute (Getty)

On positives for the team: “The one thing I’m tremendously happy about is the fight the guys have shown. I don’t think anybody watching any of our games can turn around and say these players haven’t shown a huge amount of character. If you use that as a foundation to build a team on, you’ve got an opportunity to go places.

“We’ve touched on defence and probably set-piece. We want to improve in every area but those are probably the two areas where we’ve shown we’re not yet able to go toe-to-toe with the best in the world.”

On what hosting a Rugby World Cup would do for rugby in the USA: “The minute it was announced that Japan was going to get a World Cup the game has changed tremendously in this country. Just look at these amazing supporters and the people in the streets. This whole event has just been fantastic, the whole event has been amazing here in Japan and I think we would be able to do a very similar job and it would have the same effect on our game as well.”

Cam Dolan wins a lineout, USA v Tonga at RWC 2019

Nailed it: Cam Dolan wins a lineout for the Eagles but the day ended in disappointment (Getty Images)

USA captain Blaine Scully: “We’re disappointed not to come away with the result. That’s our mentality, and our mindset is to stay in the game for the entire contest. We always do that.

“It just seemed to be the case in this World Cup that we lacked execution deep inside in the 22 and it ended up hurting us down the other end. Just small margins but that’s Test-match rugby, that’s World Cup rugby.”

On his Rugby World Cup 2019 experience: “It’s been a phenomenal experience. We’re all really grateful to the Japanese people for being such wonderful hosts. We want to say thank you to all our friends, families and supporters who made the trip out here. We’re really grateful. Thank you so much.”

Related: Rugby World Cup TV Coverage

The Teams

USA: Will Hooley; Blaine Scully (capt, Mike Te’o 19), Bryce Campbell, Paul Lasike, Marcel Brache; AJ MacGinty, Ruben de Haas (Nate Augspurger 65); Eric Fry (Olive Kilifi 18), Joe Taufete’e (James Hilterbrand 72), Titi Lamositele (Paul Mullen 45), Greg Peterson (Ben Landry 45), Nick Civetta, Tony Lamborn, Malon Al-Jiboori (Ben Pinkelman 65), Cam Dolan (Hanco Germishuys 51).

Tries: Te’o 20, 25, Lamborn 77. Cons: MacGinty 2.

Tonga: Telusa Veainu; ‘Atieli Pakalani, Malietoa Hingano, Siale Piutau (capt), Viliami Lolohea (David Halaifonua 48); James Faiva (Latiume Fosita 75), Sonatane Takulua (Leon Fukofuka 59); Siegfried Fisi’ihoi (Vunipola Fifita 65), Paula Ngauamo (Siua Maile 75), Siua Halanukonuka (Ma’afu Fia 44), Sam Lousi, Halaleva Fifita (Dan Faleafa 75), Sione Kalamafoni, Zane Kapeli (Nasi Manu 59), Maama Vaipulu.

Tries: Fisi’ihoi 16, Hingano 57, Piutau 61, Veainu 80. Cons: Takulua 2, Faiva, Piutau. Pen: Takulua.

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