Men's Eagles
7 0
Māori All Blacks
54 28
Men's Eagles  @ Toyota Park
The Rugby Weekend
  Matthew Carley


 Steve Zomberg

CHICAGO - The Men's Eagles began their third assembly of the year at "The Rugby Weekend Presented by AIG" in front of a sold-out crowd of 18,007 fans at Toyota Park Friday, losing to the visiting New Zealand Maori All Blacks, 54-7.

Captain Todd Clever contributed a try in the defeat late in the second half to end the All Blacks' shutout streak, with fly half Will Holder converting to account for the U.S.'s points total. John Mitchell's squad will continue its November Tour next weekend, traveling to Europe for a match against Romania Saturday, Nov. 12.

Both teams tested out the waters in the opening minutes as fans, dealing with the heavily-trafficked Windy City, continued to find their seats. Holder and Mike Te'o traded kicks with Damian McKenzie and Ihawia West as the pack warmed up in the middle, and it was the Eagles that found a front foot first. Matai Leuta, in his first match with the Eagles, found space in the attacking third to get within five meters of the try line in the fifth minute. The ball was sent wide by Folau Niua for Clever to take in, but he was tackled and lost possession before points could be scored.

The All Blacks slowly began to win the aerial battle for territory, and took advantage of any gap the Eagles presented them. In the 10th minute, a break from scrum half Tawera Kerr-Barlow nearly opened the scoring, but Te'o brought his opposite number down and Holder turned over the ball in the breakdown. A minute later, however, the All Blacks found their way into the try zone through wing James Lowe with quick hands to the corner. West converted the try from the touch line for a 7-0 score line.

Olympian Danny Barrett, in his first 15s action with the U.S. since Rugby World Cup 2015, busted through the gain line in the 17th minute to put the Eagles across midfield, but a knock and penalty against the Eagles allowed the All Blacks to attack. Akira Ioane dummied two passes to get around defenders near the touch line, doubling his team's lead to 14-0.

From the restart, the All Blacks forced Holder into pressured kicks, hemming the Eagles in their own half. A quick tap a few meters in front of the try line gave the visitors a chance at a third try, but the defense of Clever and prop Titi Lamositele troubled the All Blacks, who were penalized for double movement in the final position.

Tony Lamborn, who had spent the summer playing rugby in New Zealand, kept the familiar opposition from scoring again in the 25th minute with an interception. The Eagles could not benefit from a scrum caused by a kick too deep a minute later, not long before the All Blacks began to settle.

Approaching midfield in the 34th minute, West chipped a kick over the defense and into the hands of center Matt Proctor, who barely waited a split second before popping it to Lowe for the wing's second try of the half. Unlike the first two tries, the third was scored beneath the posts for West to drop-kick the conversion.

James HIlterbrand kept Rieko Ioane, the younger of the brothers, from extending the lead in the 38th minute at the cost of a 10-minute trip to the sin bin. The Eagles held onto the 21-point deficit until the final minute of the half, when captain Ash Dixon dotted down from a lineout-turned-maul.

The 28-0 halftime score was not insurmountable by any means, but it turned to a 35-point deficit five minutes into the second half. Akira Ioane scored his second try from the back of a maul not 10 meters from the try line.

The crowd at Toyota Park had been entertained by the attacking flair of the All Blacks, but the loudest cheer up until that point came during the ensuing restart as Nate Brakeley raced into the try zone alone. The kick had bounced off of the hands of an Eagle prior to the second row grabbing it, resulting in a knock rather than a try.

The Eagles were buoyed by the return of their hooker before scrum time in the 48th minute, and Clever pointed to the corner when the All Blacks were penalized. Holder kicked for the lineout and the Eagles drove the set piece forward for what they thought was a try. The match official conferred with the television match official, who confirmed the captain had grounded the ball on the line for the U.S.'s first points. Holder converted from an angle to bring the score to 35-7.

As much as the Eagles worked for their first score, the All Blacks quickly erased the seven points from the point differential with a full-field try. McKenzie found space heading towards the wing from behind his own 22 and received the ball on the other side of midfield after Akira Ioane broke a tackle. The full back fed Ken Hames in the middle of the field as the Eagles were caught out of position for the prop to slide under the posts, 42-7.

"They're a lot more patient at the back," Martin Iosefo recalled of his opposition following the match. "They're conservative in the space, letting the big guys hit up-field and then looking to attack both ways. They did a really good job in their area as far as their accuracy in passing and catching, pushing forward. It made it easy for them to gain meters."

The home side kept at it in the final frame with crunching tackles and line speed reminiscent of the first few minutes' defensive patterns, keeping the All Blacks from just two tries in the final 30 minutes. The 80th-minute try, which brought the final score to 54-7, came from a quick throw 10 meters from the try line that caught the Eagles looking the other way.

"As you could see, we had some fruitful ball and we were able to break through," Iosefo said. "We had a good kicking game as well as defense. The final thing we need is the finish. We had been knocking on their door in their own 22 and had some good momentum going.

"We need to take what we've done here and build on it. Credit to the Maori All Blacks - they gave us a good game. We just need to get back to what we've been doing, watch the film, and learn from it and move on."

The sellout crowd at Toyota Park represented the third consecutive sold-out rugby match featuring the Eagles and a New Zealand team on U.S. soil. The Maori All Blacks helped draw 18,500 to Philadelphia's PPL Park in 2013, while the Rugby World Cup champion All Blacks drew 61,500 to Chicago's Soldier Field in 2014.

"I love getting the opportunity to play at home," said Iosefo, a world-traveler on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series with the Men's Eagles Sevens. "The atmosphere tonight was awesome; being able to run out on the field to the chants of U-S-A was one of the best feelings ever. It's like another Vegas tournament (HSBC USA Sevens) to me but in a 15s game.

"Thanks for the fans - we appreciate everyone that came out, and for cheering for both teams."

"The Rugby Weekend Presented by AIG" concludes Saturday at Soldier Field as the All Blacks, unbeaten in 18 matches running, kick off against Ireland, a team that is winless against the New Zealanders.

The Eagles will now head across the Atlantic for next weekend's match against Romania and the final matchup of 2016 against Tonga. Some of the players available Friday night will travel, while others will make way for overseas professionals joining the squad in the international test window. The greater squad has already been released, with any changes due to injury to be announced during the weeks ahead.

Men's Eagles | v. Maori All Blacks

1. Titi Lamositele

2. James Hilterbrand

3. Chris Baumann

4. Nate Brakeley

5. Nick Civetta

6. Todd Clever (C)

7. Tony Lamborn

8. Danny Barrett

9. Nate Augspurger

10. Will Holder

11. Matai Leuta

12. Folau Niua

13. Bryce Campbell

14. Martin Iosefo

15. Mike Te'o

Men's Eagles | Reserves

16. Joe Taufete'e

17. Angus MacLellan

18. Alex Maughan

19. Matthew Jensen

20. Al McFarland

21. Stephen Tomasin

22. Shalom Suniula

23. Madison Hughes

Maori All Blacks | v. USA

1. Kane Hames

2. Ash Dixon (C)

3. Ben May

4. Jacob Skeen

5. Tom Franklin

6. Elliot Dixon

7. Kara Pryor

8. Akira Ioane

9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow

10. Ihaia West

11. James Lowe

12. Tim Bateman

13. Matt Proctor

14. Rieko Ioane

15. Damian McKenzie

Maori All Blacks | Reserves

16. Joe Royal

17. Chris Eves

18. Marcel Renata

19. Leighton Price

20. Shane Christie

21. Brad Weber

22. Marty McKenzie

23. Sean Wainui

Men's Eagles | 7

Tries: Clever

Conversions: Holder

Discipline: Hilterbrand (Yellow)

Maori All Blacks | 54

Tries: Lowe (2), A. Ioane (2), A. Dixon, Hames, Weber, Royal

Conversions: West (6), McKenzie

Discipline: Weber (Yellow)

Men's Eagles | November Tour

v. Maori All Blacks - L 54-7

v. Romania - Saturday, Nov. 12 @ Stadionul Arcul de Triumf - Bucharest

v. Tonga - Saturday, Nov. 19 @ Estadio Anoeta - San Sebastián, Spain