Canada takes the first steps to the 2015 Rugby World Cup on Saturday, a qualifying journey that can be short or long.
Standing in its way is a long-time rival in the form of the U.S. Eagles.
The two-match total points series opens at Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, S.C., before wrapping up Aug. 24 at Toronto’s BMO Field.
Canada is ranked 15th in the world by the International Rugby Board, compared to No.18 for the United States.
Four years ago, the Eagles defeated Canada 12-6 in South Carolina, only to lose 41-18 in the finale in Edmonton. The United States went on to beat Uruguay 27-22 and 27-6 to join the Canadian men at the World Cup in New Zealand.
The Canada-U.S. winner will play in Pool D at the World Cup alongside No.5 France, No.8 Ireland, No.12 Italy and Europe 2.
The loser moves on to play Uruguay in another qualifying series, whose winner will play in Pool B with No.2 Africa, No.7 Samoa, No.9 Scotland and Asia 1, likely No.14 Japan.
The team beaten by Uruguay has one last chance to book its ticket to the World Cup via a repechage tournament.
No.10 Argentina is an automatic qualifier from the Americas.
Canada has most of its arsenal available for the U.S. series. Missing are prop Hubert Buydens, who is playing professionally in New Zealand, and injured back Conor Trainor.
But back in action are hard-nosed lock forward Jamie Cudmore and winger D.T.H. van der Merwe.
In-form flanker John Moonlight retains his place in a back row that also features captain Aaron Carpenter and Tyler Ardron, who has signed a pro deal with the Ospreys in Wales.
Cudmore partners Jebb Sinclair of London Irish in the second row behind props Andrew Tiedemann and Jason Marshall and hooker Ryan Hamilton.
Mobile scrum half Phil Mack earns the No.9 shirt, with Harry Jones winning the battle at fly half. Nick Blevins and Ciaran Hearn pair up in the centre with van der Merwe and Matt Evans on the wing.
Dependable kicker James Pritchard starts at fullback.
The Canadian starting 15 features eight who play professionally overseas.
Saturday’s game marks the 50th meeting between the North American rivals. Canada leads the series 36-12-1.
The United States has lost its previous five matches in 2013, including a 16-9 defeat at the hands of Canada in Edmonton in May. Under head coach Kieran Crowley, Canada is coming off losses to Japan and Ireland but impressed earlier in the summer with wins over Fiji and Tonga.
Follow us on Twitter: