USA and Japan set up title decider after wins

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Photos: Zoomfiji / Getty Images

AJ MacGinty starred for USA as they and Rugby World Cup 2019 hosts Japan maintained their unbeaten starts to the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup 2019 with victories over Samoa and Tonga respectively. Fiji were the other winners in round two after overcoming Canada.

Japan and the USA maintained their unbeaten starts to the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup 2019 to set up a winner-takes-all meeting in Suva next weekend.

The Eagles got round two underway with a slender 13-10 win over Samoa at ANZ Stadium in the Fijian capital as fly-half AJ MacGinty kicked his side to only their second ever win over the Pacific Island nation.

That result leaves Samoa second in Pool B, behind Japan who continued their preparations to host Rugby World Cup 2019 with a comfortable 41-7 defeat of Tonga.

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USA 13-10 Samoa

USA fly-half AJ MacGinty scored all of his side’s points, including a nerve-jangling late penalty, as the Eagles secured only their second-ever win over Samoa.

MacGinty kicked 15 points against Canada in round one and proved to be the hero yet again as the USA maintained their unbeaten start to Pacific Nations Cup in Suva.

Matches between the two sides have traditionally been tight affairs – Saturday’s result means that six of their seven meetings have been decided by one score or less – and it was the Eagles who broke the deadlock thanks to a second-minute MacGinty penalty.

Samoa soon took the lead, however, as Alapati Leiua stole through a defensive gap to score the game’s opening try. Fly-half AJ Alatimu added the extras to give the Pacific Islanders a four-point cushion.

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It was an advantage that would not last the opening quarter, MacGinty picking a good support line to take a pass from Ruben de Haas and crash over from five metres. The Sale Sharks playmaker added the conversion and the USA led 10-7 at half-time.

The Eagles had enjoyed the upper hand in the opening 40 minutes – Leiua’s try came from one of Samoa’s two entries into their 22 during the first period – but the script was flipped on its head in the second.

Samoan pressure finally told on the USA defence with around eight minutes left as Henry Taefu punished a Tony Lamborn indiscretion with three points. That brought the scores level but as the clock ticked past 80 minutes, the USA were able to keep possession and earn a penalty inside Samoan territory. MacGinty then held his nerve to seal victory.

USA captain Blaine Scully said: “It was a really tight contest and I’m not sure either team deserved to lose that. It was an 80-minute arm wrestle. We’ll take a lot of lessons out of this match and hopefully learn from them next week.”

Japan 41-7 Tonga

Japan wore black armbands in honour of coach Jamie Joseph’s late mother as they secured a win in Higashiosaka City that was as comfortable as the scoreline suggests.

Tonga will play twice at the Hanazono Rugby Stadium during RWC 2019 and it looked as though they were acclimatising well to their surroundings as an early attack ended with a yellow card for Japan winger Katoro Matsushima, who was adjudged to have knocked on deliberately.

From the resulting lineout fly-half Latiume Fosita hoisted a cross-field kick to the right wing where ‘Atieli Pakalani was waiting in space, however, the ball evaded him in the in-goal area.

And the 14 men of Japan soon made their visitors pay as Amanaki Mafi powered over from close range to open the scoring.

Once back up to their full complement, Japan took control of the contest and ended the first quarter 14-0 in front as Asaeli Ai Valu, who like Mafi was born in Tonga, burrowed over.

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The hosts added a third converted try on the half-hour mark as impressive fly-half Yu Tamura delayed his pass perfectly to allow centre Timothy Lafaele to canter over.

Tamura added a penalty early in the second half to stretch Japan’s lead to 24-0, but the hosts were not playing with as much fluency and in the 57th minute Leva Fifita burrowed over the try-line to get Tonga on the scoreboard.

A second Tamura penalty, with 12 minutes remaining, settled any nerves however, and Japan rediscovered their verve to score two tries in the final eight minutes.

Tamura had a hand in the first, putting a grubber through for Matsushima to latch onto but the second was all replacement winger Kenki Fukuoka’s work as he beat two defenders on the touchline before dotting down in the left corner.

Japan captain Michael Leitch said: “We were able to achieve what we wanted to do so I would give eight out of 10 for tonight.”

Japan attack coach Tony Brown added: “I thought the test match was a tough old battle. I just think then when we did score our tries we executed well.”

Tonga captain Siale Piutau said: “It was a tough game. We knew that Japan were going to play a fast tempo game and they capitalised on all our errors.”

Photos: Zoomfiji / Getty Images