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NAGOYA, Japan – A young Men’s Eagles squad could not overcome a powerful Fiji side Wednesday in their third IRB Pacific Nations Cup match, losing 10-35 in Japan.
Andrew Suniula came from the bench in the first half to score the Eagles’ first try of 2013 and Adam Siddall scored five points, but some troubles in the scrum and a few bad breaks sealed the Fiji win.
Siddall opened the scoring in the ninth minute with a penalty kick and Fiji responded with a penalty of their own a few minutes later before Nikola Matawalu finished a Fjiian attack in the 17th minute for a 10-3 lead.
The Eagles, starting without usual captain Todd Clever and most of the veteran lineup used in the recent matches against Ireland and Tonga, put together better attacking phases in the first half but were undone by knock ons and penalties.
In the 23rd minute, Fiji stole an Eagles scrum and Nemani Nadolo made a nice run before giving the ball to Timoci Nagusa to dive over in the corner of the try zone for a 17-3 Fiji lead.
The younger Eagles lineup showed signs of attacking intent with nice passing and continuity, but it took the additions of Brian Doyle and Andrew Suniula in the 33rd minute – for James Paterson and Peter Dahl, respectively – for the Eagles to score their first try of the season.
After a few phases in the 38th minute, Suniula received the ball from a quick tap just outside the try zone and made a nice move to get over the line and draw the Eagles within a converted try at 10-17 at the half.
Shawn Pittman and Phil Thiel came on for the Eagles at the beginning of the second half and the fresh legs in the scrum helped at first, but Fiji was too strong in the scrum and stole the ball in the 47th minute to add their third try of the match. Sakiusa Matadigo dotted down and Seremaia Baikeinuku missed the conversion to put Fiji on top 22-10.
Fiji’s speed gave the Eagles trouble, as well, and a good move in space for the Fijians almost resulted in another quick try. The Eagles recovered in numbers to push the Fijian into touch and end the opportunity.
Baikeinuku added his second penalty kick in the 52nd minute to increase the lead to 25-10, and Eagles Head Coach Mike Tolkin inserted Mike Petri and Chris Biller into the match.
Fiji took advantage of one of Petri’s first touches of the ball, a clearance kick at midfield. Nikola Matawalu caught the kick and immediately ran through the middle with pace to the 10 before offloading to Nemia Kenatale to finish between the sticks. An easy conversion by Baikeinuku padded the Fijians’ lead to 10-32.
Luke Hume finished a long Eagles possession in the 70th minute in the corner of the try zone but the play was called back due to a knock on by Suniula, who later played a few dummies to set up another attacking move before the Eagles lost possession in contact.
John Quill was replaced by Chris Wyles in the 72nd minute after sustaining a knee injury, ending his inspired performance at the blindside flanker position.
Scrums were a problem for the Eagles throughout the game and they killed what little momentum the Eagles created in the dying minutes of the match. Baikeinuku kicked his third penalty and Fiji played kept the Eagles from advancing past midfield to finish off the Pacific Nations Cup encounter with a 35-10 win.
“We came out in the first half and played the game plan we wanted to play,” captain Louis Stanfill said. “But Fiji got those breaks and that’s how they score points.”
The loss is the third of the Pacific Nations Cup campaign for the Eagles, who will look to finish their first year in the tournament with a win against Japan Sunday at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo.
Post-match quotes from Head Coach Mike Tolkin:
"In the first half, we were playing toe-to-toe with Fiji, but the combination of squandering several attacking opportunities deep inside Fiji territory along with a struggling scrum inside our own end caused us to play from behind.
"The intent of the attack and the shape at times enabled us to put pressure on Fiji and go into halftime only down 17-10 and feeling reasonably good, although several injuries hamstrung us.
"In the second half, the scrum struggled some more and we again missed several good scoring opportunities inside Fiji's 22. The defense was physical throughout and continued to really pressure Fiji in the second half. We double-tackled well and cut off passing lanes for offloads well. Both tries in the second half resulted from what we thought were blatant missed calls (ball out of scrum tunnel and picked up and hip check obstruction on kick-chase runner Scully) and felt unlucky. Although, in saying that, Fiji dropped one certain try.
"We capped one new player tonight in Cam Dolan and played several young Eagles who stood up well throughout. Many of the usual starters needed the rest, having had three matches in 10 days with a fourth looming. We need depth to build as well to be prepared for every situation."
Men's Eagles | vs. Fiji
1. Nick Wallace (Pittman @ 40)
2. Zach Fenoglio (Biller @ 63)
3. Eric Fry (Thiel @ 40)
4. Graham Harriman
5. Louis Stanfill
6. John Quill
7. Peter Dahl (Doyle @ 33)
8. Cameron Dolan
9. Robbie Shaw (Petri @ 55)
10. Toby L'Estrange (Siddall @ 68)
11. James Paterson (Suniula @ 33)
12. Seamus Kelly
13. Adam Siddall
14. Luke Hume
15. Blaine Scully
1. Jerry Yanauanutawa (Ma'afu @ 40)
2. Talemaitoga Tuapati (Veikoso @ 40)
3. Setefano Somoca (Saulo @ 40)
4. Pisa Ratuniyarawa
5. Apisal Naikatini (Ratuva @ 56)
6. Netani Talei
7. Akapusi Qera (C) (Ravulo @ 51)
8. Sakiusa Matadigo
9. Nikola Matawalu
10. Setareki Koroilagilagi (Tabuarua @ 56)
11. Sireli Bobo (Delai @ 56)
12. Seremala Baikeinuku
13. Nemani Nadolo
14. Napolioni Nalaga
15. Timoci Nagusa (Kenatale @ 40)
16. Viliame Veikoso
17. Campese Ma'afu
18. Manasa Saulo
19. Iliesa Ratuva
20. Mala Ravulo
21. Nemia Kenatale
22. Leone Tabuarua
23. Adriu Delai
Men's Eagles | 10
Fiji | 35
Tries: Matawalu, Nagusa, Matadigo, Kenatale
Conversions: Baikeinuku (3)
Penalties: Baikeinuku (2)