NELSON, New Zealand -- The U.S. Eagles left the Rugby World Cup as they began it.
Up against a superior opponent in all facets of the game, the United States played hard before succumbing 27-10 to Italy on Tuesday.
The Americans finished 1-3 for the tournament, beating Russia 13-6 for their only victory.
Just like the opening 22-10 loss to Ireland on Sept. 11 -- before which the squad attended a memorial service to honor the 9/11 victims -- the U.S. players showed spirit against a contender for the quarterfinals.
The Americans were outscored four tries to one, but they produced the pick of the touchdowns at Trafalgar Park when fullback Chris Wyles scored a stunning first-phase try to tie it 7-7 in the 18th minute after receiving a pass following center Paul Emerick's bust from a lineout.
The U.S. defense held firm for long stretches, three times denying the Italians from scoring a try with the assistance of the video referee.
The Italians' dominant scrum led to a lopsided 19-7 penalty count against the Eagles, who were forced to play from deep with only 36 percent of field territory but having stolen five lineouts or half the total of their opponents' throws.
Inspired performances from U.S. captain Todd Clever and veteran prop Mike MacDonald ensured Italy only put the result beyond all doubt with a 67th-minute penalty try -- earning a bonus point to help its calculations for the quarterfinals in the clash against Ireland on Sunday.
"We gave it all we had. At the end, it wasn't enough against a strong Italian side," Clever said. "I'm just super proud of the guys. We played for each other. We played for the fans and we played for all the Americans back home. We're going to be a great team in the near future."
U.S. coach Eddie O'Sullivan had said beforehand that his expectations were limited to wanting his players, in their last match, to test Italy.
He wasn't disappointed. Outmatched at scrum time, the U.S. midfield defense was ferocious, with Clever playing a particularly starring role. He made crunching hits, stole turnovers and won a personal duel with Italy's captain, Sergio Parisse.
"The USA gave us a lot of hard work," Parisse said.