We have a strong, tight-knit squad, and we feel that if we put in our best performance, we can beat anyone in the tournament. —Madison Hughes
MURRAY — The final game of the first day of the Junior World Rugby Trophy provided the biggest upset.
The United States Under-20 National Team stunned Tonga 22-11 on Monday to put the Eagles in a great position to win their group.
Second-half tries by Madison Hughes and Cameron Falcon — and a significant effort by BYU's Tua Laei — propelled the Eagles over a Tongan side that received most of the support from a filled-to-capacity crowd at Murray Rugby Park.
"We're confident going into every game," Hughes said. "We have a strong, tight-knit squad, and we feel that if we put in our best performance, we can beat anyone in the tournament. Tonga is a great side; they bring a great rugby reputation with them. It was fantastic to go out and get a win today."
The top-seeded Tongans took an 11-6 lead, their biggest of the match, shortly after halftime when Alifeleti Atiola scored a try. Tonga kept on the offensive, nearly scoring on Siale Talakai's right-side run. That was the high tide for Tonga, however, as things came unraveled after that.
Viliami Fatafehi, Taniela Vakauta and Michael Faleafa all received disciplinary cards in the second half. Faleafa's was the most serious, earning himself a red card for his part in a scuffle between the two teams.
The Americans converted the ensuing penalty attempt just after the hour mark to give them an 12-11 lead, their first since early in the first half.
With a two-man advantage and the wind at their backs, the Eagles kept attacking in waves.
Hughes took the ball himself in for a try in the 75th minute to give the United States a six-point lead. Eight minutes later, Falcon scored the clinching try with just two minutes left.
"As soon as we got off the bus today, we know we had three things — attitude, hustle, aggression — and you saw those all the time," said U.S. captain Will Magie. "Six-six at halftime, the wind was strong in the first half, but we stuck with it. We gave up a try, but then we just worked and worked and worked, and we overpowered them. They are a bigger team and we overpowered them. It's all in the heart."
In all, Hughes scored 19 of the Eagles' points. It didn't come as a surprise to his coach, Scott Lawrence.
"Madison just came off a Most Valuable Player performance in the College Championship Sevens on NBC," Lawrence said. "He's a very good player. Very dynamic, kicks well, very quick and a great defender as well."
The U.S. next plays Chile at 6 p.m. on Friday, while Tonga takes on Russia at 4 p.m.
JAPAN 39, ZIMBABWE 36: Japan overcame a late second-half rally by Zimbabwe on a try from reserve fullback Yutaro Murai in the final seconds to capture a dramatic victory in the tournament's opening match.
CHILE 53, RUSSIA 19: Chile used a balanced attack and a tenacious defense to best a constantly attacking Russia squad in both team's first match in Pool A. Francisco Urroz led the Condors with two tries. In all, seven different players scored in their dominate performance.
GEORGIA 31, CANADA 17: Using a tough second-half defense, Georgia overcame an early deficit and earned a rugged victory over the Canadians.
Junior World Rugby Trophy
At Murray Rugby Park
Georgia vs. Zimbabwe, noon
Japan vs. Canada, 2 p.m.
Tonga vs. Russia, 4 p.m.
United States vs. Chile, 6 p.m.