Eagles eager to end Canadian dominance
Rugby World Cup 2015 qualification ratchets up another level this weekend when USA host Canada in Charleston, South Carolina, in the first of a two-leg play-off that will provide the Americas 1 qualifier for the showpiece in England.
Seven days after this encounter at Blackbaud Stadium, the two sides will come face to face again in Toronto and are equally determined to put a tick in the qualification box and avoid having to face Uruguay in the play-off to decide the Americas 2 qualifier.
As well as giving both teams an opportunity to become the first team to qualify directly for Rugby World Cup 2015, the match will be also special for another reason; it will be the 50th time that the great North American rivals have met.
Historically, Canada can claim the upper hand, having won 35 of the 49 matches played since their first competitive Test in 1977. This advantage also translates across to the all-important Rugby World Cup qualifiers, Canada being victorious in six of the eight meetings.
The last qualifier between these two was a fiercely contested two-Test series four years ago to secure the Americas 1 place for Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand. The first leg on that occasion was played on 4 July in front of nearly 4,000 fans in soaring temperatures at the Blackbaud Stadium.
That day veteran fly half Mike Hercus kicked three penalties and one drop goal to ensure the Eagles took a narrow 12-6 lead into the away leg. After the match Hercus explained what that victory meant to his compatriots. “We only had five guys on the team, including myself, who had ever beaten Canada before and of course this is our biggest game of the year. This is about as good as it gets.”
Canada, though, regrouped well and put in a decisive performance seven days later in Edmonton to win 41-18 and ensure qualification with a 47-30 aggregate victory. The Eagles did ultimately qualify as Americas 2, beating Uruguay 54-28 on aggregate.
One target: qualification
What will undoubtedly motivate USA even more is that their 2009 win in Charleston was their last victory over their neighbours, with Canada winning all five matches played since. The Eagles will be desperate to reverse this trend and book their place at Rugby World Cup 2015.
“The boys have been training really hard all week and have had a positive attitude since day one. We all have our minds set on one thing, and that's beating Canada and qualifying for the World Cup now, anything short of that is a failure in our minds,” admitted hooker Zach Fenoglio.
Despite the history books being very much on Canada’s side, it is much harder to predict what will happen over the course of the next week. While Canada’s impressive debut season in the IRB Pacific Nations Cup saw them come close to lifting the silverware and suggested that they may be enjoying a better run of form than their southern neighbours, the USA made up for a disappointing tournament by putting in a stellar performance against Ireland in Texas, losing by just three points. The IRB World Rankings also put very little between Canada and USA, who sit in 15th and 18th place respectively.
IRB Vice Chairman Oregan Hoskins, who will attend the first leg, summed up the mood of expectation around these qualifiers “The USA v Canada rivalry is one of the most fiercely contested in all of Rugby and over the years they have served up some hugely exciting and intense matches.”
To add to the excitement, rugby’s most prized possession, the Webb Ellis Cup, will be on display at the match and fans will get the opportunity to have their photo taken with the trophy.
For both USA and Canada, these fixtures offer more than a platform for Rugby World Cup qualification and will define which side of the border North American rugby’s bragging rights lie. The play-off will surely be one of the most important and hotly contested encounters on the international rugby calendar in 2013, and the Americans in particular will be looking to make up for their recent string of defeats against Canada, and secure automatic qualification to Rugby World Cup 2015.
Whatever the final result is, both matches are sure to be passionate affairs played in front of patriotic crowds who all are set to enjoy one of rugby’s greatest rivalries.