|Photo Rugby Canada: Cudmore and Clever with the Webb Ellis Trophy and their coaches|
Canada and the USA are two vital components of the Rugby World Cup. The size and population of the two countries makes them a significant market and one that is crucial to the continued growth of the global game. On the field the two teams have had highs and lows at Rugby World Cup tournaments with Canada having been a Quarter Finalist in 1991 and having won pool matches in all tournaments except 2007. The USA has completed good wins over Japan and Russia at Rugby World Cup´s but has fallen in matches that it was close to winning such as against Fiji in 2003 and Samoa in 2007. Moves towards professional rugby have been recieving more support in North America and there is genuine optimism from some quarters that both Canada and the USA could join the first tier over time.
Neither Canada nor the USA was able to seal direct qualification to Rugby World Cup 2015. Both sides won one match each in New Zealand 2011 with Canada missing out on a place despite having started with a win over Tonga. Canada finished in fourth ahead of Japan after the sides had drawn in Napier while Tonga claimed third spot after defeating France. Had France not had a day of horror then Canada would have qualified directly and would not be facing the USA this weekend.
While there are two matches taking place in the Rugby Championship Saturday´s match at BMO Field in Toronto is the one that matters most. On the line is a place at Rugby World Cup 2015 and the qualifier will have the honor of being the first team to secure its place in the tournament via qualification. Either Canada or the USA will qualify for Pool D, a tough pool which includes European powerhouses France, Ireland and Italy in addition to a fourth European qualifier, most likely Romania. Canada is the frontrunner after having won 27-9 over the USA in Charleston, South Carolina last Saturday. The result means the USA needs to win by more than 18 points if it is to seal the Pool D spot.
The prize for finishing second is a North America v South America play-off in March / April 2014 against Uruguay. It will be during the later stages of the European club season - a time in which player control is crucial with teams looking to reach the play-off´s and also avoid relegation. Securing the best players could therefore involve a lot of diplomacy and be far from ideal for the competing North American union. A win in Toronto on Saturday is therefore the desire despite the winner of Uruguay v North America 2 having arguably a better list of opponents. Americas 2 will play in Pool B of Rugby World Cup 2015 against Samoa, Scotland, South Africa and an Asian qualifier, certain to be Japan.
For the match in Toronto both sides have made changes. Ray Barkwill will start at hooker with Tom Dolezel providing cover on the bench. As such Aaron Carpenter will not be used at hooker. He will captain the team from the back of the scrum in an unchanged backrow. The strong Canadian team is not, however, at full strength. Jamie Cudmore will not play due to injury and has been replaced by Tyler Hotson. The remainder of the team is unchanged. The USA, in contrast has four changes. Samu Manoa will not play, meaning the USA has no advantage over a Cudmore-less Canadian side. At scrumhalf Robbie Shaw replaces Mike Petri whose service was questionable in Charleston.
Additional changes see Chris Wyles move from fullback to outside centre to take the place of the injured Seamus Kelly who is out with an MCL sprain. Wyles moving to the centres is arguably in the long term interest of the USA to have a more solid attack and a replacement for the retired Paul Emerick. It also opens the possibility for Blaine Scully to play fullback as Luke Hume has recovered and will start on the left wing. The USA Eagles should feel confident of scoring tries this weekend due to it possessing as good of a back-three as ever and having Wyles closer to the play.
1 Andrew Tiedemann, 2 Ray Barkwill, 3 Jason Marshall
4 Jebb Sinclair, 5 Tyler Hotson
6 Tyler Ardron, 8 Aaron Carpenter, 7 John Moonlight
9 Phil Mack, 10 Harry Jones
12 Nick Blevins, 13 Ciaran Hearn
11 DTH van der Merwe, 15 James Pritchard, 14 Matt Evans
16 Tom Dolezel
17 Doug Wooldridge
18 Aaron Flagg
19 Jon Phelan
20 Nanyak Dala
21 Sean White
22 Nathan Hirayama
23 Phil MacKenzie
1 Shawn Pittman, 2 Chris Biller, 3 Eric Fry
4 Lou Stanfill, 5 Brian Doyle
6 Scott LaValla, 8 Todd Clever, 7 Peter Dahl
9 Robbie Shaw, 10 Toby L´Estrange
12 Andrew Suniula, 13 Chris Wyles
11 Luke Hume, 15 Blaine Scully, 14 Taku Ngwenya
16 Zach Fenoglio
17 Titi Lamositele
18 Phil Thiel
19 Cam Dolan
20 Derek Asbun
21 Mike Petri
22 Folau Niua
23 Roland Suniula