Coach Kingsley Jones has named an unchanged starting 15 for the second leg of Canada’s Rugby World Cup qualifying series against the U.S. Eagles.
The Canadian men won the first leg 34-21 on Sept. 4 in St. John’s. The rematch is Saturday in Glendale, Colo.
The only change in the Canadian matchday 23 is in the replacements where veteran lock Kyle Baillie comes in for Mason Flesch. Baillie was not fit last weekend.
“We’ve got a 13 point lead [in the series] at the moment and we’ve got 80 minutes to play,” Jones said. “We know it’s going to be a different challenge this week, a big challenge. We are fortunate to be able to choose the same starting 15 that have again earned this selection, while we’re happy to have Kyle fit to add to our reserve strength.”
The Canadians will face a stronger U.S. lineup from the get-go as coach Gary Gold makes seven changes.
Fly half/captain A.J. MacGinty, who plays in England for Sale Sharks, came off the bench to start the second half last week after arriving late because of travel complications. And the U.S. starts an entirely new front row with overseas pros David Ainu’u (Toulouse, France), Kapeli Pifeleti (Saracens, England) and Joe Taufete’e (Lyon, France) moving into the starting 15 from the bench.
Ryan Matyas, Tavite Lopeti and Marcel Brache come into the backline.
Canada rallied from a 14-10 halftime deficit, reeling off 24 straight points to take control of the match on a sunny, very windy afternoon at Swilers Rugby Park. The final margin of victory could have been 20 points, but Lopeti, in his U.S. debut, scored a converted try under the posts in the 82nd minute to cut the lead.
The win moved Canada up one place to No. 21 in the World Rugby rankings. The Eagles fell one rung to No. 17, changing places with Uruguay.
“I speak for everyone when I say we are incredibly focused on making up for our performance last week,” Gold said in a statement. “As a group, we are utterly disappointed in what we showed on the field against Canada; and credit where it’s due, because they took their opportunities and deserved to win. We absolutely cannot underestimate what this Canadian side can do and it is on us to put out a dramatically improved performance from last week.”
The aggregate winner of the North American playoff moves on to face Uruguay in early October with the victor slotting into Pool A at Rugby World Cup 2023 in France as Americas 1 alongside No. 2 New Zealand, No. 5 France, No, 14 Italy and Africa 1.
Uruguay advanced by winning a three-team South American tournament in July. No. 28 Chile placed second ahead of No. 26 Brazil.
The Canada-U.S. series loser will meet Chile to determine who progresses to the Americas 2 playoff against the loser of the Americas 1 decider.
No. 6 Argentina, the powerhouse in the region, qualified automatically by virtue of its performance at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
The Canadian men have never missed a World Cup, although they had to qualify the hard way last time out, winning a four-team repechage to make the 2019 tournament. The Americans have only failed to qualify once, in 1995.
Last weekend’s game in St. John’s was only the third for both Canada and the U.S. since the 2019 World Cup because of pandemic-related interruptions of the international test schedule.
The Canadian victory snapped a 10-match losing streak against all competition, as well as a six-game losing run and 12-game unbeaten streak against the U.S.
The Americans have lost seven straight test matches, with their last win a 20-15 decision over Canada in Vancouver in September 2019 in a World Cup warm-up.
Saturday’s match takes place on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Eagles will wear a commemorative logo both on their warmup shirts and as a patch on their match jerseys.
“Saturday will be a serious task for us both physically and mentally on the field and because of what that day represents to this country,” Gold said. “Playing on the anniversary of Sept. 11 is something our guys take very seriously and there is a huge amount of pride that goes into representing your country in a World Cup qualifier on such an important day as that.”