|Canada v Italy from 2012 in Toronto|
The Pacific Nations Cup looms as being the ideal long term solution for North American Rugby. Like Argentina needing to adjust to the style of play in the Rugby Championship both Canada and the USA need to play differently against Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and, less so, Japan than would be the case against European sides. While there are a number of differences between Canada and the USA in international rugby one crucial difference is the ability of Canada to play well against Pacific Island sides - unlike the USA. While Canada has defeated Tonga on five occassions out of seven tests and won three while losing six against Fiji the USA Eagles record is one win over both Fiji and Tonga compared to nine loses.
Canada has also, importantly, delivered at Rugby World Cup´s. The USA has defeated Japan and Russia while Canada has defeated Fiji, Namibia, Romania and Tonga in addition to drawing twice against Japan. In Rugby World Cup 2015 Samoa will face Americas 2, likely the USA. Neither Canada nor the USA has ever defeated Samoa. The Samoans physicality, particularly at the breakdown, would appear to be what sets Samoa apart from the other Tier Two nations. This area combined with scrums is where Canada has had held an advantage over the USA year after year.
Of note is that Canada´s style of play is more successful against European sides than others and Canada will play in Pool D at Rugby World Cup 2015 against France, Ireland, Italy and Europe 2 (possibly Romania). Although there are three Six Nations sides Canada may well prefer facing Italy than Samoa as the pool´s third seed on reputation after South Africa and Scotland. The reason being that Italy´s style of play is more familiar and easier to combat than is the case of Samoa´s. Overall facing France and Italy requires a far similar game plan than does facing South Africa and Samoa with Scotland in between. Canada also has a record of two wins and five loses against the Italians.
While Italy is a team ranked lower than Samoa on IRB World Rankings it is a team considered to be slightly better. The reasons being that it is a more consistent performer and has a more extensive playing squad to call upon. Samoa, unlike Italy, has no professional rugby and relies heavily on acquiring foreign players, particularly New Zealanders who are not able to make the All Blacks. Indeed 50% of the Samoan players at Rugby World Cup 2015 were New Zealanders, born to Samoan parents or grandparents. Samoa, quite simply, does not produce enough quality players and relies on acquiring eligible players from abroad.
Italy is well known for nationalizing players with Argentina, Australia and South Africa all having had many players represent Italy. Unlike New Zealanders representing Samoa, however, the players have been based in Italy. Samoa defeated Italy in June and did so with nine New Zealanders in the starting lineup: Ole Avei, Cencus Johnson, Jack Lam, Daniel Leo, Johnny Leota, Filo Paulo, James So´oialio, Jeremy Su´a, Paul Williams. These players were representing a country they do not play in nor were born or raised in. Both Canada and the USA also have players born abroad but finding players who have never lived in either country that play at the international level is like finding a needle in a haystack. It is rare rather than unlike Samoa, where it is the norm.
The USA has an outstanding back-row to face Samoa and, arguably out play them at their own game. Not only are Samu Manoa, Scott LaValla and Todd Clever all elite athletes but they are all test players that were born and raised in the USA. They delivered against Ireland in June but the team could not win while the combination did not face Fiji or Tonga in the Pacific Nations Cup. The tournament will be key, particularly in 2014, with the USA needing to find a game plan to combat the Pacific Islanders that it can then use against Samoa in Pool B of England 2015. Pool D could, in other words, be a blessing for Canada while the USA certainly stands a better chance of making history by winning two pool matches in Pool B than is the case in Pool D.
Samoa enters Pool B as the official number two side behind South Africa and ahead of Scotland. It will, likely, have problems finishing second though as Scotland has the game plan to topple Samoa. It also has the players and the coach. Vern Cotter will be the Scottish coach. The New Zealander has transformed Clermont Auvergne from being a traditional French club side to playing Super Rugby in the Top 14. The game plan is attacking rugby and a brand that he is now set to utilize with Scotland. This is bad news for Samoa and it also implies that Scotland is likely to be closer to the style of play that is Ireland come 2015. Americas 2 will play Samoa first and Asia 1 last in pool play. It is a schedule that will likely see a policy shaped around winning these two games. The match against Scotland will be seven days after the opening fixture.