Tonga scored their first win of the tournament, a hard-earned 31-19 triumph over the United States in Higashiosaka City on Sunday.
Captain Siale Piutau, in his final outing for his country, scored the fourth try after the full-time hooter and added the conversion to seal the victory.
The Pacific side fumbled a series of chances and weathered a late fightback before completing their first victory of the tournament in a tough Pool C.
Captain Siale Piutau, playing his last Test, was among the scorers as Tonga brought up their ninth straight win over America since they lost their first meeting in 1999.
Tonga dominated territory and possession in the first half but they were 12-7 down at the break after poor decisions and handling errors denied them a series of tries.
James Faiva fended off two defenders in a typically adventurous break to create Tonga’s opening score on 16 minutes, setting up prop forward Siegfried Fisi’ihoi who barrelled over from a maul.
But the United States hit back with two tries in five minutes from replacement Mike Te’o, who stepped in smartly from the wing for his first and then found himself in oceans of space for his second.
Tonga should have pulled it back close to half-time but Fisi’ihoi, his eyes lighting up for his second try, dropped the ball on the line under pressure from scrumhalf Ruben de Haas.
After the break, another Tongan try went begging after slick work from the backs when Telusa Veainu passed the ball into touch when Viliami Lolohea had the line at his mercy.
But Sonatane Takulua knocked over a penalty and Tonga finally regained the lead 17-12 through Malietoa Hingano after a kick from their own 22 fell kindly for the Tongan runners.
Piutau, playing his final Test, slalomed through a tiring American defensive line to open up a 24-12 lead before Tony Lamborn burrowed over to pull it back to 24-19 with three minutes remaining.
But after Tonga passed up a kick for goal and went for an attacking scrum, Veainu went over in the last action of the game in a rousing finish for Ikale Tahi.
Both teams were playing for pride after defeats by England, France and Argentina in a tough Pool C dubbed the ‘group of death’.
Man of the match: United States wing Mike Te’o scored two tries within five minutes of coming on as a first-half replacement for captain Blaine Scully. Flank Malon Al-Jiboori put in an enormous shift, but the Eagles’ best player was scrumhalf Ruben de Haas – with his crisp service and tactical nous creating great momentum for the Americans. Sam Lousi showed all his experience of the many years in Super Rugby, while captain Siale Piutau scored a great try in his last match for his country. Scrumhalf Sonatane Takulua and wing Viliami Lolohea (with over 100 run metres) were also good value. Our award goes to Tongan fullback Telusa Veainu, who was a constant threat on attack and managed more than 150 metres with the ball in hand and put the seal on a great win with the final try of the match.
Moment of the match: You can always look at the two Mike Te’o tries (21st and 26th minute) that got the United States into the lead in the first half or Tony Lamborn’s score in the 77th minute that gave the Eagles a late shot at victory. But we feel the score by Tongan captain Siale Piutau in the 62nd minute – on his birthday in his last Test for Tonga – was more worthy. He later added a conversion for good measure.
Villain: None here. Some big hits, but nothing nasty.
Tries: Fisi’ihoi, Hingano, Piutau, Veainu
Cons: Takulua 2, Faiva, Piutau
For the United States:
Tries: Te’o 2, Lamborn
Cons: MacGinty 2
15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Atieli Pakalani, 13 Malietoa Hingano, 12 Siale
Piutau (captain), 11 Viliami Lolohea, 10 James Faiva, 9 Sonatane
Takulua, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Zane Kapeli, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Halaleva
Fifita, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 Paula Ngauamo, 1 Siegfried
Replacements: 16 Siua Maile, 17 Vunipola Fifita, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Dan Faleafa, 20 Nasi Manu, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 Latiume Fosita, 23 David Halaifonua.
15 Will Hooley, 14 Blaine Scully (captain), 13 Bryce Campbell, 12 Paul
Lasike, 11 Marcel Brache, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Ruben de Haas, 8 Cam Dolan, 7
Malon Al-Jiboori, 6 Tony Lamborn, 5 Nick Civetta, 4 Greg Peterson, 3
Titi Lamositele, 2 Joe Taufete’e, 1 Eric Fry.
Replacements: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Olive Kilifi, 18 Paul Mullen, 19 Ben Landry, 20 Hanco Germishuys, 21 Ben Pinkelman, 22 Nate Augspurger, 23 Mike Te’o.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)