The USA host Canada in what is expected to be a thrilling clash in the second leg of their Rugby World Cup qualifier in San Diego on Saturday.
The winner of this showdown qualifies for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan as Americas 1 where they will be in Pool C with England, Argentina, France and Oceanic 2. The loser will still have two more opportunities to qualify for the tournament.
These sides faced off in the first leg of the qualifier last weekend and an entertaining encounter finished in a 28-28 draw in Hamilton, Ontario.
USA Eagles coach John Mitchell has made five changes to his starting line-up after that result. Captain Todd Clever, who is playing in his final match before retiring from Test rugby, will have the returning Tony Lamborn alongside him in the back row along with Cam Dolan in the number eight position.
Nick Civetta scored two of the Eagles' tries against Canada in the first leg. The lock's second row partner in five of his seven appearances, Nate Brakeley, returns to the starting XV. Chris Baumann has recovered from an injury that kept him out of last weekend's match-day squad to complement the front row of hooker James Hilterbrand and fellow prop Tony Purpura.
Last week, the USA capitalised on their time with possession against Canada in hostile territory, but surrendered a 10-point lead in a 10-minute time span.
Though they remained unbeaten against the border rival in their sixth consecutive meeting, the Eagles are readying for the most important game of the past 17 months under Mitchell. Along with the team captain, the head coach will also be finishing his Eagles career in San Diego before taking over the reins at South African Super Rugby franchise the Bulls in Pretoria.
"A lot of it was our own doing," said Mitchell of the draw in Hamilton.
"We had to live off of other possessions rather than just field position and lineouts. We had plenty of it but our turnovers were too frequent to be able to build pressure. Saying that, our defense was good for long periods and we put ourselves in a position at 28-18 to win the game, but we let it go.
"They won the discipline on the day, as well. That discipline cost us with a couple defensive lapses. To be fair, it's 0-0. Game on."
Meanwhile, Canada head coach Mark Anscombe has made just one change to his starting line-up. Gordon McRorie replaces Phil Mack at scrum-half. Mack is unavailable due to family commitments.
“Everyone knows their role and that they need to do it with conviction and confidence,” explained Anscombe.
“If we do that we can put on a good showing Saturday.
“We’re creating lots of opportunities but we’re just not finishing them,” Anscombe said. “This week if we can be clearer about them finishing them and our decision making is smarter then we’re going to run in some tries.
“If we front up and play smart we can neglect their home advantage and get the result we want.”
Canada has not lost a Rugby World Cup qualification match since July 2009 when they lost 12-6 to USA before rebounding to win 41-18 to make the 2011 tournament.
Since the tournament’s inception in 1987, Canada has never missed a Rugby World Cup. Canada achieved its best result in 1991 when they reached the quarterfinals before being eliminated by New Zealand. USA, who has played in seven of the previous eight tournaments, has never advanced out of the pool stages.
Players to watch:
For USA: Eagles veteran Todd Clever will be keen to finish his Test career on a high. Clever will retire with 76 caps and 73 starts for the Eagles. Scorer of 16 Test tries, Clever recorded nine five-pointers in 18 games against the border rival. He will be hoping to add to that tally in this crucial clash.
For Canada: In DTH van der Merwe, the Canucks have a proven try-scorer and one of the best finishers in the game. The Newcastle Falcons-bound player usually plies his trade on the wing but showed his class in midfield last weekend when he crossed for two crucial tries which helped earn his side the draw.
Head-to-head: The battle between the two number eights will be interesting as both the USA's Cam Dolan and Canada's Tyler Ardron play crucial roles for their respective sides. Both Dolan and Ardron are impressive with ball in hand and will be expected to get their teams over the the advantage line with some strong carries.
2017: They drew 28-28 in Hamilton, Ontario
2017: USA won 51-34 in Vancouver
2016: USA won 30-22 in Austin
2015: USA won 41-23 in Nepean
2015: USA won 15-13 in Vancouver
2014: USA won 38-35 in Sacramento
2013: Canada won 13-11 in Toronto
2013: Canada won 27-9 in Charleston
Prediction: There's little separating these sides and it's difficult to predict a winner but we believe home ground advantage will swing things in the Eagles' favour. It will be close but the USA will win by two points!
USA: 15 Madison Hughes, 14 Mike Te'o, 13 Bryce Campbell, 12 Marcel Brache, 11 Ryan Matyas, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Nate Augspurger, 8 Cam Dolan, 7 Tony Lamborn, 6 Todd Clever (c), 5 Nick Civetta, 4 Nate Brakeley, 3 Chris Baumann, 2 James Hilterbrand, 1 Tony Purpura
Replacements: 16 Joe Taufete'e, 17 Ben Tarr, 18 Dino Waldren, 19 David Tameilau, 20 John Quill, 21 Andrew Durutalo, 22 Shaun Davies, 23 Will Magie
Canada: 15 Ciaran Hearn, 14 Andre Coe, 13 DTH van der Merwe, 12 Connor Braid, 11 Taylor Paris, 10 Shane O'Leary, 9 Gordon McRorie, 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Matt Heaton, 6 Admir Cejvanovic, 5 Evan Olmstead, 4 Brett Beukeboom (c), 3 Jake Ilnicki, 2 Ray Barkwill, 1 Djustice Sears-Duru
Replacements: 16 Benoit Piffero, 17 Anthony Luca, 18 Matt Tierney, 19 Kyle Baillie, 20 Aaron Carpenter, 21 Andrew Ferguson, 22 Nick Blevins, 23 Dan Moor
Date: Saturday, July 1
Venue: Torero Stadium, San Diego
Kick-off: 15:00 local (22:00 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Ben Whitehouse (Wales), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Sean Davey (England)
Photo credit: Official website of USA Rugby