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USA Beat Australia to Cap PAC 4

  • 17 May 2024
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AUS-USA Rugby

USA RUGBY – The USA Women’s Eagles showed evident improvements in their final match of the 2024 Pacific Four Series, taking a 32-25 win over hosts Australia. Captain Kate Zackary made her return to play for the first time in nearly two months, showing strong leadership alongside vice captains Rachel Johnson and Tess Feury. [Lead photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images for World Rugby]

Their first win against the Wallaroos since 2022, the Eagles had shining moments in their driving maul and work through phases. Big improvements shone following two defeats against Canada and New Zealand, and the Eagles kept themselves in the conversation for WXV 1 and the 2025 Rugby World Cup. The USA awaits their fate during the final week of the Pacific Four, as placements and points will determine where teams will head this fall.

“Fantastic result for the team on the back of a challenging four weeks on tour,” USA Rugby Women’s National Team Head Coach Sione Fukofuka said. “We have worked hard on developing our set piece, our ability to layer and vary our attack, and our connection in our defensive system. It was pleasing to see the team play a fast, physical game with some great decisions tactically. It’s a brand of rugby that we want to be known for as Eagles!

 

USA-AUS Rugby

Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

“It takes 30 players in the squad to prepare each week, and 23 players to win the game,” the coach continued. “[I]t’s important for us as a collective that all 23 players plus those that didn’t get selected are represented out there. Clearly the quality of the starting group was reflected in the players that didn’t start. Freda [Tafuna] had an outstanding game last week but my captain was ready to go and stepped up into that position, and Freda came on and added the impact we needed. I’m really pleased with the collective effort of everyone. It took all 23 for the 80 minutes, and that’s exactly what we asked for.”

The Eagles earned the first major possession of the game with a scrum. Immediate improvements from last week were evident, as the USA remained patient on phases and showed good breakdown support. Pushing up in defense, Australia were also patient, and scored off their first scrum after a USA knock on, putting themselves on the board first.

Another Australia knock on let the Eagles go quick, making it down into Wallaroos territory. Australia were a little too urgent on defense, and the USA earned an opportunity for a penalty kick. The first attempt bounced off the post into opponent hands, but another penalty gave Gabby Cantorna another chance, slotting it perfectly this time and giving the USA three points.

 

USA-AUS rugby

Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Olivia Ortiz’s work as scrum half didn’t go unnoticed, as she kept the Wallaroos on their toes and even had her own strong carries, fending off defenders. The Eagles connected well, showing good continuity, but Australia improved their defense from the previous week, putting on the pressure to take back the ball.

The USA were able to stifle the Wallaroos’ attack several times. In line outs, the Eagles showed great defense in rolling mauls, keeping Australia from several scoring opportunities. While they were kept away from line out scores, Australia found space on the wing several times to get the ball over and increase the score gap.

The Wallaroos continued to dominate in the first half, building more momentum on attack and taking advantage of the kicking game. The USA remained confident, especially in set piece, where they won penalties to keep attacking. The Eagles were quick in their driving maul, and Australia couldn’t set their feet fast enough, allowing Kathryn Treder to touch down for the first USA try.

 

USA-AUS rugby

Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Australia went through many phases ahead of the halftime whistle, and a penalty kick upped their lead. Heading into the second half, the home team was up 8-20.

Despite the Wallaroos’ healthy lead, the USA were confident and energetic with some positive moments throughout the first half. Their next job was to finish those momentum builds and keep Australia away from the try zone. The Eagles were on attack to start and made their way to the try line. But Australia turn over and kick out of their zone, where the ball went to touch.

The USA took another shot at a strong driving maul, launching into a surge of phases. It was Hope Rogers to finish the play, spinning around a tackler to tap down the ball. Cantorna’s conversion added another two, and the USA were only five points down with an evident shift in momentum.

 

USA-AUS rugby

Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

A tackle to touch brought the ball back to the USA, who took advantage of Australia penalties by taking line outs and inching closer again to the try line. Off another fiery maul, Georgie Perris-Redding did a dummy pass and made it to the line before getting tackled, so Hope Rogers got her second try of the match in the next phase, tying up the game.

With the clock ticking down and the Eagles surging forward, Australia were becoming more urgent. Penalties conceded between both teams slowed down the game and it was a big battle between them. Australia found space to strike off a line out, regaining their lead with another five points. Unshaken, the USA worked to bring the ball back down field. Quick offloads kept Australia on their toes, and a kick over defenders into Hallie Taufoou’s hands hoped for another score, but a TMO called it a knock, sending to a goal line drop out into a USA attack. Not many phases passed before Taina Tukuafu snuck a pass to Lotte Clapp, who skipped away from tacklers and scored by the posts, setting Cantorna up for a swift conversion, bringing the Eagles to the lead.

The Eagles’ energy only picked up as the second half wore Australia down, and their pressure on both sides forced errors and penalties by the Wallaroos, setting the USA up for many line out and maul opportunities. A long driving maul was taken down, and McKenzie Hawkins kicked to Bulou Mataitoga, who almost scored but lost the ball forward. A penalty by Australia in the maul was a saving grace for the Eagles, though, and they brought it back to another line out. The USA used their trusty maul to draw in defenders before pulling out into phases. Atumata Hingano ultimately scored on the wing, the final try of the match that would extend the USA’s lead and secure the win.

 

USA-AUS rugby

Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

The rest of the game was spent working to keep possession and hold the line as Australia attacked. Australia tried their hand at a maul, but it was halted by the USA to go to phases. The Wallaroos rolled over the try line, but brilliant defense held it up, giving Australia a chance to attack with a goal line drop out. They went to kick over defenders, but Bulou Mataitoga caught the ball, giving the USA attack as the clock wore down. Slow phases let the USA control the ball and kick out at the whistle, securing the wing, 32-25.

“We’ve been together for three weeks now,” Zackary said. “We’ve come off those two hard matches against Canada and New Zealand, but the coaches have really pushed the tempo. I think we’ve finally found the team that we’ve been looking for the last year to be frank. We finally saw that out there today. To go into halftime down and to come back, even statistically speaking, that doesn’t happen often. It comes with a lot of belief, and that’s why it means so much. They truly believed in themselves today to get that win.”

 

USA-AUS rugby

Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

USA v AUSTRALIA

Name Club Test Caps
1. Hope Rogers Exeter Chiefs 47
2. Kathryn Treder Loughborough Lightning 20
3. Charli Jacoby Queensland Reds 28
4. Hallie Taufoou Loughborough Lightning 17
5. Erica Jarrell Sale Sharks 9
6. Kate Zackary (C) Ealing Trailfinders 37
7. Georgie Perris-Redding Sale Sharks 14
8. Rachel Johnson (VC) Exeter Chiefs 29
9. Olivia Ortiz Exeter Chiefs 20
10. McKenzie Hawkins Colorado Gray Wolves 15
11. Lotte Clapp Saracens 16
12. Gabby Cantorna Exeter Chiefs 28
13. Atumata Hingano USA Sevens 5
14. Bulou Mataitoga Loughborough Lightning 17
15. Tess Feury (VC) Leicester Tigers 26
16. Paige Stathopoulos Beantown RFC 8
17. Alivia Leatherman Notre Dame College 3
18. Keia Mae Sagapolu Leicester Tigers 9
19. Rachel Ehrecke Colorado Gray Wolves 13
20. Freda Tafuna Lindenwood University 8
21. Taina Tukuafu Lindenwood University 9
22. Katana Howard Sale Sharks 20
23. Emily Henrich Unattached 16
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