Reaction: Tonga too strong for USA
September 12, 2007
No excuses from Eagles following defeat
The United States refused to use their heroics against England as an excuse for their failure to beat Tonga in their World Cup Pool A clash in Montpellier today.
The Americans were seen as favourites following their brave performance against the world champions four days earlier but they looked to be suffering from the after-effects of that clash as they got off to the worst possible start.
They conceded a try after just 72 seconds and found themselves trailing 13-0 after 26 minutes before going on to enjoy long periods of domination with little reward in a 25-15 defeat.
"People might think our performance against England had an effect, but we won't be using that excuse,'' insisted flanker Louis Stanfill, one of their two tryscorers.
"That's an easy excuse to use.''
Former Tonga captain Viliami Vaki came off the bench to score the clinching try and get his side's campaign off to a dream start.
The veteran forward pounced for a try 11 minutes from the end to finally kill off the brave efforts of the Eagles and claim Tonga's third victory in World Cup history, their first for eight years.
Tonga fly-half Pierre Hola, who kicked four goals from five attempts, admitted his side had been helped in their preparations by studying their opponents in their 28-10 defeat by England.
"We prepared well,'' he said.
"We watched USA play England and that helped us to plan our strategy and we got a good start at the beginning. We were on a roll.''
Flanker Finau Maka was driven over for the game's first try and Hola added the conversion before punishing American indiscipline with a couple of penalty goals.
The United States struggled in the set-piece play and found themselves with their hands full against the combative Pacific islanders' forwards but they gradually weathered the storm.
Guided by the experience of fly-half Mike Hercus, they made every effort to bring lively left winger Takudzwa Ngwenya into play but they only had a Hercus penalty to show for their efforts before half-time, when they trailed 13-3.
However, the Americans were the better side for long periods of the second half and twice got back to within a score of their opponents.
Leeds prop Mike MacDonald took Hercus' neat pass to crash over at the corner on 46 minutes after hooker Owen Lentz had been held up over the line.
The conversion was too far out for Hercus but, at 13-8, the momentum was clearly with the States, for whom heavyweight replacement Matekitonga Moeakiola - their tryscorer on debut against England - was starting to have a big impact.
However, a breakaway try then halted the Americans dead in their tracks.
Tonga's inspirational captain Nili Latu broke through the first line of defence from the halfway line and full-back Vungakoto Lilo took play on to get winger Joseph Vaka over for his first try for his country.
Stanfill gave the USA renewed hope with a converted try on 66 minutes that cut the deficit to just three points but Vaki struck the decisive blow three minutes later and Hola kicked his fourth goal from five attempts.
"I told the boys to be patient,'' revealed Latu, who was passed fit before kick-off after missing training this week with a hamstring injury.
"I also told them again what our game plan was because we weren't sticking to it at that point.
"I'm very pleased. It's not often you get the chance to play in a World Cup and it's a good feeling to get a victory. Winning today is a confident step up
Ngwenya finally got to show his paces with a late break but the Tongans just had enough energy to track back and deny the Zimbabwe-born flyer.
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