- Associated Press - Sunday, September 27, 2015

LEEDS, England (AP) - The Scots are saving their best for the second half at this Rugby World Cup.

For the second straight game, Scotland was in a sticky predicament at halftime but recovered to score five tries for a bonus-point win in Pool B. This time it was the United States that was dispatched, 39-16, in Leeds on Sunday.

“It was a banana skin that we dodged today,” Scotland coach Vern Cotter said.

Using a swarming defense and a strong scrum, the Eagles were on course for only their fourth - and easily most stunning - World Cup win after taking a 13-6 lead at halftime on prop Titi Lamositele’s try.

After a four-day turnaround from the 45-10 win over Japan, Scotland was being pushed around up front, its passing was off and its discipline poor.

Not so in the second half.

Just like the Japan game, there was an immediate cutting edge to Scotland’s play as wingers Tim Visser and Sean Maitland, hooker WP Nel, and center Matt Scott scored tries in a 23-minute spell to clinch the bonus point by the 65th. Duncan Weir crossed for the fifth try on virtually the last play of the game as the Americans faded.

“Something that comes into play is a lot of these guys playing don’t have the grind of a professional season, playing week in, week out,” U.S. coach Mike Tolkin said. “For some of our guys, it’s a real challenge and it’s something we have to overcome.”

That will take years, not weeks. So the Eagles are staring at no wins at a World Cup for the fourth time in seven editions. They now have a 10-day break before playing a rejuvenated South Africa at the Olympic Stadium.

By then, Scotland - sitting top of the pool with a maximum 10 points - may have sealed its spot in the quarterfinals, but that will require a victory over the Springboks in six days. There are fitness concerns over lock Grant Gilchrist and flyhalf Finn Russell, who went off injured against the Americans

Given the relatively short journey south from Scotland, it was like a home game for Cotter’s side. The sound of kilted bagpipers before kickoff would have made the Scots feel even more at home.

But by halftime, it was the small pockets of American fans, waving U.S. flags and chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A,” who could be heard more with another Pool B shock possible following Japan’s stunning win over the Springboks on the opening weekend.

The Eagles’ physicality in defense - something Cotter warned of pre-match - was too much for Scotland in the first half, as was their reading of predictable backline plays. There were gasps all around Elland Road at U.S. winger Takudzwa Ngwenya’s huge hit on Peter Horne near the end of the first half.

The sides were separated at halftime by Lamositele’s 21st-minute try, with the prop barging over from close range after hooker Phillip Thiel was held up a meter from the tryline. While flyhalf AJ MacGinty kicked his three first-half goals, Scotland missed two of its four penalties.

“It was a nervous place to be,” Visser said of Scotland’s locker room. “On paper, you should be beating these nations and we weren’t.”

Within two minutes of the restart, slick handling put Visser over down the left, and opposite wing Maitland ran onto a pop pass from Russell, found a gaping hole in the defensive line and sprinted behind the posts in the 47th.

A charge-down from replacement Tim Swinson gave Scotland another attacking platform near the U.S. line. After a lineout and some phases, Nel dipped his shoulder and forced his way over in the 54th.

The replacements kept Scotland on the front foot and another of them, Scott, made a powerful charge through MacGinty from 10 meters out to seal the bonus point.

“We simply weren’t good enough,” U.S. captain Chris Wyles said.

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