On May 25, the battle for North American rugby supremacy opens a new chapter as, for the first time, Canada and the United States will play each other as part of the revamped Pacific Nations Cup (PNC). The North Americans will join a tournament which already includes Japan, Tonga and Fiji.
This, the first IRB test match in what is set to be an incredibly busy summer of rugby, will take place in Edmonton, Alberta; it will be the first of three meetings between these two countries in the next few months.
Previously on Bleacher Report, I asked whether North America's two major rugby nations have what it takes to handle their new—and vastly expanded—summer schedules. The answer will soon be upon us.
The addition of the the PNC tournament to the normal compliment of three summer internationals has the potential to be a huge benefit to the development of rugby in both countries; however, it will force Canadian and American coaching staffs to utilize their expanded depth charts, which is a factor that may lead to unpredictable results.
Both nations have several top-flight professionals unavailable for the opening game of the tournament, as coaches try to provide them some recovery time after a lengthy overseas season. At first glance, it would appear Canada will suffer more heavily from these absences, with the likes of Jamie Cudmore, DTH Van der Merwe and Jebb Sinclair all unavailable, as well as others who are out injured. Meanwhile, the USA Eagles are set to field several of their leading overseas players, in the forms of Shawn Pittman, Eric Fry and captain Todd Clever.
While both Canada and the USA can expect to see their performances improve significantly over the course of a long summer, this match will see the teams take to the pitch with only a limited amount of preparation time.
Canada heads into action as the world's 14th ranked team, according to the International Rugby Board (IRB), while the USA is listed in 16th position. Both countries will have ample opportunity to improve their standing this summer; especially against the two more highly-ranked Pacific Island nations.
As mentioned, the cross-border rivals will meet again for a home-and-away series in August, as part of the Rugby World Cup qualifying process. By then, the composition of the two squads will likely look very different.
Canadian Head Coach Kieran Crowley originally posted a 45-man player pool for this summer's internationals, making it extremely difficult to guess at what the Canada roster for Saturday's clash will look like.
If the Canadians are hoping to significantly advance their IRB world rankings this summer, they can ill afford a home loss against the lower-ranked Americans. With that in mind, look for the Canadians to dress an experienced starting line-up, possibly with a significant amount of young talent added to their bench.
For the Eagles, the picture looks somewhat different. Given the almost impossible travel schedule and challenging opposition assigned to them this summer, this match may well be one of the fixtures being targeted by the USA management. Look for the USA to dress the very strongest roster available to them.
Canada-USA clashes are traditionally defined by their physicality and intensity, so whatever the make-up of the teams, the players will know that they will need to impose themselves physically to be successful.
Rugby Canada's game day roster announcement will likely take place in the 48 hours prior to the match, in Edmonton.
Click here to see the USA Rugby match day roster
Bleacher Report Prediction:
As this is the first match for both teams since November, a degree of rust and a lack of coordination is to be expected. This will no doubt make for a combative, but sloppy, opening half of rugby.
With very few exceptions, Canada have consistently gotten the better of their American rivals in modern times. Home advantage and a desire to obtain a mental edge against an opponent whom they will play repeatedly this summer, will all be motivating factors for them.
As always, the inspirational Todd Clever will see his team fight hard to the end, but it is unlikely to be enough.
Our Bleacher Report prediction calls for an underpowered Canada to do just enough to get their summer campaign off to a successful start.
Predicted Scoreline: Canada 24 - USA - 21
Jeff Hull is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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