Philadelphia–Captain Scott LaValla made several early tackles and did what he could to help the Eagles set the right tone at the start of the match against Tonga. Gloucester promoted the match well, and there was a good crowd at Kingsholm.
Still, in a sign of how the match would go, the Eagles knocked on the first kick of the game and gave up a penalty inside their half one minute in. Fortunately, Kurt Morath’s touch-finder was poor and pressure was relieved with a 22 drop out. So it was the Americans who scored first with Folau Niua making a good break and Tim Stanfill finishing.
The first half featured some good defense by the Eagles as Tonga put them under pressure repeatedly. For instance, Tonga opted for a lineout after a scrum penalty, but the US was able to steal the lineout (I think it was LaValla) and again relieve pressure. While Scott LaValla was in the sin bin for taking out a Tongan player who was chasing a kick, Tonga scored only 3 points. That is not a bad consequence for the Eagles.
The half ended with John Quill scoring from a driving maul from a lineout. At the half it was Tonga 14, USA 12.
The second half was a mess.
An early penalty against Tonga resulted in an easy chance for the Eagles. Despite the fact that the kick about 25 meters out and a few meters left of center, Niua missed. Niua was 1 for 4 on the night.
Not long after, the Eagles were threatening in attack, but Seamus Kelly knocked the ball on after receiving a good pass from Niua. Tonga scooped the ball up, and the result was a huge loss of territory for the Eagles. That territory loss led to more pressure from Tonga and, before long, a 5 meter attacking scrum for Tonga.
Viliami Ma’afu scored a try 2 phases after that scrum. Not long after, Tonga was back in the try zone. This time, their attack started from a Greg Peterson knock on. Vunga Lilo was the finisher, but David Halaifonua made a great last pass as he was being dragged down by Tim Stanfill. Halaifonua scored himself after Shalom Suniula knocked on as the Eagles tried to attack from deep.
There were still 20 minutes left in the match when Halaifonua scored, but it was over. The Eagles did have some chances. They had 3 penalties within 10 meters of the Tongan try line and in midfield. They opted for three lineouts and ended up with no points.
At the lineouts, Phil Thiel had an early throw not straight, but for the rest of the night both teams took care of their own ball pretty well. If anything, the Eagles had an advantage in this area.
There were 8 scrums. Of those, 4 resulted in penalties against the Eagles. It would have been 5, but the referee played advantage on a scrum as Viliami Ma’afu scored. There was one penalty against Tonga. The Eagles’ pack was able to retain possession on two of their feeds, but both were traveling backward. Not the worst night for the Eagles, but still not very good.
The Eagles were beaten by their own mistakes and Tonga’s ability to capitalize on those mistakes. On the positive side, John Quill looked to be a real pest at the breakdown. Several times in the first half the referee could be heard shouting, “No 7!” Quill was playing right up to the edge of the referee’s tolerance without crossing it. Niua continues to look good in general play at fullback. Mr. Opportunity, Tim Stanfill, continues to do what wingers are supposed to do.
Up next for the Eagles: Fiji in Vannes, France. Fiji was easily beaten by France two weeks ago, but lost narrowly to Wales on Saturday 17-13. If the Eagles are going to have a chance against Fiji, they simply cannot commit many errors in open play.
Men’s Eagles | v Tonga
1. Nick Wallace 2. Phil Thiel 3. Mate Moeakiola 4. John Cullen 5. Greg Peterson 6. Scott LaValla (C) 7. John Quill 8. Matt Trouville
9. Mike Petri 10. Shalom Suniula 11. Tim Stanfill 12. Andrew Suniula 13. Seamus Kelly 14. Tim Maupin 15. Folau Niua
Men’s Eagles | Reserves
16. Tom Coolican (@ 62′) 17. Angus Maclellan 18. Benjamin Tarr (@ 65′) 19. Tai Tuisamoa (@ 57′) 20. Kyle Sumsion (@ 64′) 21. Todd Clever (@ 62′) 22. Thretton Palamo (@ 57′) 23. Ronald McLean
Tonga | Starting XV
1. Tevita Mailau 2. Aleki Lutui 3. Paea Fa’anunu 4. Tukulua Lokotui 5. Joe Tu’ineau 6. Sione Kalamafoni 7. Nili Latu (C) 8. Viliami Ma’afu 9. Sonatane Takulua 10. Kurt Morath 11. Fetu’u Vainikolo 12. Hermani Paea 13. Siale Piutau 14. David Halaifonua 15. Vungakoto Lilo
Tonga | Reserves
16. Elvis Taione (@ 57′) 17. Sione Lea (@ 59′) 18. Sila Puafisi (@ 57′) 19. Lisiate Fa’aoso (@ 69′) 20. Hale T Pole (@ 69′) 21. Taniula Moa (@ 69′) 22. Latiume Fosita (@ 54′) 23. Otulea Katoa (@ 64′)
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