HOUSTON, Texas - The USA Eagles put up a hard fought effort against Italy, with only 13 men for much of the second half, but came away on the losing end of an encouraging 30-10 effort.
Over 17,000 people attended the match, setting a record for most to ever see the Eagles play on home soil. The previous record was also set in Houston.
Andrew Suniula and Paul Emerick were both sent off with red cards in the 44th and 65th minute respectively. The remaining 13 men fought as hard as possible and at times threatened, but ball handling errors on a muggy night and a staunch Italian defense kept the USA just out of reach.
The USA was under pressure almost from the get-go when Italy picked up a Chris Biller lineout throw that went long. The ball hit the deck about 10 meters out, and Italian Hooker Carlo Festuccia caught the lucky bounce to waltz into the try zone almost untouched putting Italy on top 7-0 after three minutes.
The slippery ball caused several knock-ons for both teams in the phases to follow. The temperature hovered in the 90s, even after the sun went down, but a light breeze helped keep the temperature bearable for the crowd. To be sure though, it was hot, damp, and the ball was slick.
The USA attack started to gather momentum, putting together some solid phases highlighted by probing runs from the forward pack. The Italians were pinged for not rolling away, and Chris Wyles got the Eagles on the board with a penalty kick from 22 meters out to close the Italian lead to 7-3.
From the ensuing kickoff though, the USA was penalized for obstruction while collecting the restart, and flyhalf Riccardo Bocchino slotted the penalty to put the Italians lead back to seven.
The next 10 minutes would feature plenty of back and forth for both teams. The Italian scrum gave the Eagles fits, but the visitors handling blew plenty of opportunities for them.
Paul Emerick was his usual battering-ram self and the USA were getting go forward ball. The Eagles picked up a penalty around midfield in the 27th minute and kicked for touch. From the following lineout, Roland Suniula would straighten his run, suck in defenders, and offload to Emerick who ran a fantastic line through the defense and dove over for the first and only USA try of the match. The conversion was good, and the match was tied at 10.
Italy’s struck right back with a penalty in the 34th minute, and just one minute later, #9 Edoardo Gori showed Luke Hume a show-and-go on the wing to open a gap and sprint 30 meters for an try to the Azzuri. The score now 20-10 with 5 minutes left in the opening stanza.
Emotions were clearly running high early in the second half when Andrew Suniula was shown a red card for a late hit on Italy’s #10 Riccardo Bocchino. Once the dust up was cleared, Suniula was shown the door, and the Eagles would have to play with a man down for the rest of the match.
The intensity continued to rise for the next 10 minutes. Big hits back and forth for both teams signaled their intentions to not go quietly. A big up and under kick from the US bounced around and all of a sudden Eric Fry found himself in open space. With the audience erupting, Fry offloaded to Paul Emerick who made big inroads into the Italian defense. Again handling would be a big issue for the US as the ball squirted to the deck.
Chris Wyles was given a shot at goal in the 62nd minute, but the ball fell short, and the score remained 20-10
With only 14 men on the field, the Azzuri looked dangerous, but the US defense was holding. In the 66th minute, a big line break from Luca Morisi ended up in a knock on about 10 meters out, and the Eagles would escape trouble.
The hits were big and aggression still running high for both teams, and Paul Emerick would be a victim of over aggression when he too was shown a red card for a shoulder charge. With 15 minutes still left to play the US would play on with only 13 men.
The defensive effort from the USA that followed was at times inspiring, but with two men down, was unsustainable. Bocchino slotted another penalty after the USA was penalized trying to hang on in defense. 23 – 10 was the score, closing in on 10 minutes to play.
Luke Hume almost put the Eagles back on the board, quick tapping off an Italian penalty and using his fast feet to dance down field. Mike Petri kept the quick ball rolling, almost put Scott Lavalla into space, but the ball left his hands forward and the USA’s progress was halted by a knock on.
In the end, the two-man advantage was an obstacle the Eagles couldn’t overcome, and #21 Kristopher Shaun Burton put the final nail in the coffin for the US, diving over for a try in 77th minute. The US defense had held, but just not long enough.
Overall it was an extremely entertaining game of rugby for the record setting crowd in Houston. After the match, Mike Petri reflected on the atmosphere in the stadium.
“The atmosphere was absolutely electric. It was like being overseas. Everybody always talk about how rugby’s not really catching on here, and we don’t get the crowds and everything else, but tonight it felt like there were definitely 16 people on the field for America.”
Tries: Festuccio, Edoardo, Burton
Cons: Bocchino 3
Pens: Bocchino 3
15 Chris Wyles
14 James Paterson (Hawley: 40)
13 Paul Emerick (Red Card: 65)
12 Andrew Suniula (Red Card: 44)
11 Luke Hume
10 Roland Suniula (Holder: 75)
9 Mike Petri (Timoteo: 75)
1 Shawn Pittman
2 Chris Biller
3 Eric Fry (MacDonald: 40) (Liufau: 65)
4 Louis Stanfill
5 Brian Doyle (Asbun: 71)
6 Taylor Mokate (Durutalo: 59)
7 Scott Lavalla
8 Todd Clever*
16 Derek Asbun
17 Mike MacDonald
18 Tolifili (Andre) Liufau
19 Andrew Durutalo
20 Mose Timoteo
21 Will Holder
22 Colin Hawley
15 Luke Joseph McLean
14 Giovambattista Venditi
13 Roberto Quartaroli
12 Luca Morisi
11 Tommaso Benvenuti
10 Riccardo Bocchino
9 Edoardo Gori
1 Alberto De Marchi
2 Carlo Festuccia
3 Martin Castrogiovanni
4 Antonio Pavanello
5 Joshua Furno
6 Alessandro Zanni
7 Mauro Bergamasco
8 Robert Julian Barbieri
16 Davide Giazzon
17 Michele Rizzo
18 Tommaso D’Apice
19 Simone Favaro
20 Tito Tebaldi
21 Kristopher Shaun Burton
22 Alberto Sgarbi
Referee: Jerome Graces (France)
Assistant Referees: Derek Stoltz (Canada), Marc Nelson (USA)
TMO: Davey Ardrey (USA)
Official Attendance: 17,241