USA Eagles headcoach, Mike Tolkin has let the cat out of the bag. In an interview with This is American Rugby he confirmed that most of the rumorus floating around social networks regarding the USA´s rugby schedule for the first half of the year are true. The USA will indeed play in the Pacific Nations Cup which until 2013 has always been about the Tier Two Nations from the other side of the Pacific Ocean. It was originaly the coming together of Japan with the Pacific Island Nations of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga plus the B teams from Australia and New Zealand. The Tier One nations both withdrew for financial reasons making it into a Four Nations tournament with Japan, in effect, making the old Pacific Tri Nations into a four team competition. Samoa will not play in 2013 due to a rare opportunity to play in a tournament in South Africa featuring the host nation, Italy and Scotland.
While Samoa´s loss is significant it it great news for North American rugby as the chance of playing in the Pacific Nations Cup is a significant step forward compared to the defunct Churchill Cup. With the USA (and Canada) entering the competition takes on an entirely different form. The epicentre of the competition now cannot be considered as being in the South Pacific as Fiji and Tonga are alone while Japan is joined by Canada and the USA to make it a three - two Northern Hemisphere split. In the long term this should mean benefits for erverybody, including Fiji, Tonga and also Samoa. The Pacific Islanders have all struggled to host international rugby outside of the tournament. Canada and the USA are two nations who have a track record in playing outside of the traditional hot spots. The USA, for instance, has played in the likes of Georgia, Portugal, Spain and Romania in recent years. As such Tier Two rugby is set for a massive boost with the addition of the North Americans.
Tolkin´s confirmation of the USA´s participation did not stop there. He also confirmed the likely locations for the matches. But before the Pacific Nations Cup kicks-off in June the USA and Canada will both play host to South Africa´s Golden Lions in April. The professional team will play in the USA on April 13 with the match to take place in California. It is to be a team made up of leading domestic based players as well as seven international players of the Golden Lions´ choosing. Tolkin confirmed with This is American Rugby that the idea of the match is to expose the top domestic players to a high-level competitive game. Just who will be the international players remains unknown but Tolkin suggested that they would be Japanese based players. The match is looking like taking place at Cal State Fullerton. Six weeks latter the USA will play against Canada in a non-international match. It will take place in July, outside of the IRB International Window which means players will not be released from their professional clubs. This has not stopped the North American unions from agreeing to the match but it is not to be an international test match. Instead it will officially be between the Eagles Selects and Canada 'A'. The game will be played the Canadian city of Edmonton in the province of Alberta on May 25. Not all domsetic based players will be vailable due to the Elite Cup Final being played on the same day but it is the best option according to Tolkin.
The match will serve as preperation for the international season, which in 2013 is the most important outside of Rugby World Cup year. The USA Eagles will, as per normal, host two test matches in June with the visiting sides to be Ireland and Tonga. The USA will return to the
BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas after it broke new ground in setting a record crowd for a rugby match in the USA. 17,241 people attended the match between the USA and Italy in June 2012. In 2013 the people of Houston could do even better as the opposition is to be Ireland, a team with a higher ranking and better reputation in general. Ireland is also a country with significant historical ties through immigration which continue to be very important in contemporary America.
The match will be on June 08 while six days latter the USA Eagles will host Tonga, probably at the Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is to be only the second ever match between the countries in the USA with the first being in 1999. On that occassion the USA won 30-10 in San Francisco but since then Tonga has won all four other matches. The 2013 match will be of more importance than previous matches, with the exception of 2007 when they met at the World Cup. The other matches were either friendlies or lower level competitions than the Pacific Nations Cup. After debuting against Tonga in the tournament, the USA will face Fiji and Japan in Japan on June 19 and 23 at yet to be confirmed venues. Japan hosting multiple matches is nothing new and is good preperation ahead of Rugby World Cup 2019. It is encouraging from a global perspective as the chances of having a match such as Japan v Canada or another Tier Two nation to open the tournament will be increased.
The USA will have one month between facing Japan and playing its home and away matches against the USA. The winner of the two tests on aggregate will qualify for Rugby World Cup 2015 as Americas 1 while the other team will face the winner of CONSUR - Brazil, Chile or Uruguay likely in November 2013. The winner will be Americas 2 and will, aragubly be in a better pool as it will face South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and probably Japan. Americas 1, on the other hand will face France, Ireland, Italy and probably Romania. Like in qualification for 2011 the USA will host the first match with Atlanta, Georgia having, surprizingly, been said to be the venue. Tolkin said that the match would be played at Kennesaw State University Soccer Stadium on Jul 20 while Canada would host the return fixture on the following Saturday in Toronto.
USA Schedule until July
April 13 USA v Golden Lions (California)
May 25 Canada 'A' v Eagles Selects (Edmonton, Alberta)
June 08 USA v Ireland (BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, Texas)
June 14 USA v Tonga (Rio Tinto Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah)
June 19 Fiji v USA (Venue tba, Japan)
June 23 Japan v USA (Venue tba, Japan)
July 20 USA v Canada (Kennesaw State University, Atlanta, Georgia)
July 27 or 28 Canada v USA (Toronto, Ontario)
* Counts towards IRB World Rankings
* Rugby World Cup 2015 Qualifier