By Craig Bohnert | March 05, 2017, 9:51 p.m. (ET)
The USA Men's Eagles Sevens rugby team celebrates its bronze medal at the USA Sevens on March 5, 2017 in Las Vegas.

 

The USA Men’s Eagles Sevens rugby team flew to victory Sunday afternoon with a come-from-behind last-play goal by 2016 Olympian Andrew Durutalo. The team scored a rousing 19-15 win over New Zealand in the bronze-medal match of the HSBC USA Sevens Cup at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.

It marked Team USA’s first medal at a USA Sevens since the tournament joined the World Rugby Sevens Series in 2004, as well as the squad’s first medal this season.

Just as they did in their tough 20-17 semifinal loss to South Africa, the Eagles broke on top early, this time on 2016 Olympian Maka Unufe’s try two minutes into the contest. Stephen Tomasin stepped up to handle conversions. He wasn’t phased by the blustery winds that made every conversion Sunday a challenge, adding two points to Unufe’s tally to spot the home team to a 7-0 lead.

The Kiwis responded with a try by D.J. Forbes in the eighth minute, but Beaudein Waaka missed the first of his three conversion attempts, allowing the host Eagles to take a 7-5 advantage into the halftime break.

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Tim Mikkelson gave New Zealand the lead with his try in the ninth minute to kickstart what would be a wild second half, but Waaka again missed the conversion, leaving the score 10-7. Danny Barrett then scored in the 11th minute and Tomasin again navigated the wind to convert his two-pointer and spot the Eagles to a 14-10 edge.

The All Blacks responded a minute later with a brilliant effort by Sione Molia, but the heavy winds continued to be Waaka’s nemesis as he missed what would be his third and final conversion attempt.

That set the stage for Durutalo’s last-second heroics. The New York City native who now calls Bukuya, Fiji, home drove the ball over on the game’s last play to launch to set off the Eagles’ victory celebration.

“There’s nothing like this,” Tomasin told USA Rugby after the match. “The crowd’s been amazing all weekend long. We can really feel it on the field when they get going. The energy flows through all of us. It’s hard to put into words how special a moment this is for us. Not many people get to put on a jersey and do it in front of a home crowd.”

The win washed away most of the disappointment left after a hard-fought semifinal against South Africa earlier in the afternoon. After rolling out to a 12-0 lead, the Eagles saw the Blitzboks come back to take the 20-17 decision.

The Eagles have little time to celebrate as they turn their attention to their next challenge, the HSBC Canada Sevens set to begin March 11, in Vancouver, British Columbia.