Rugby World Cup progress is on the line when the USA face Canada in crucial France 2023 qualifiers over the next two weekends. USA head coach Gary Gold sets the scene


Gary Gold: “This is a massive time for the US”

USA and Canada meet this weekend in the first match of a crucial 2023 Rugby World Cup qualifying double header. Canada host the Eagles at St John’s, Newfoundland on Saturday in a match that UK and Ireland viewers can watch live on Premier Sports from 6.30pm. Glendale, Colorado will stage the second leg next Saturday (11 September).

The victor over the two legs will face Uruguay on 2 and 9 October, with the winner of that qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2023 Pool A (containing New Zealand and France) as Americas 1. The loser will continue their qualifying bid with a double header against Chile.

US Eagles coach Gary Gold spelled out the importance of the matches to Rugby World in a column published in our September 2021 issue. Gold writes…

“There’s been a lot said and written about the impact of Covid on rugby’s big competitions: the complexity of life in the bubble, the restrictions on movement, the lack of fans and the awful uncertainty about what will happen one day to the next.

Every coach can tell you stories about how tricky this has been and I’m no different. At the United States we have players coming in from as many as seven different countries. It’s a logistical nightmare. Canada, our opponents in the World Cup qualifying double header, will be similar. We walk through a rugby minefield to get ready for those critical games.

It’s not just that each country we’re bringing players in from have different rules, it’s also that many states within the USA have different rules, too.

The regulations change so often that it can be head-spinning. It was announced recently that all of our players have to be vaccinated, but not all of our players want to be vaccinated.

Certain people want it and certain people don’t. It’s not my job to decide on the rights and wrongs of that, but it’s a problem. I have key players who, for whatever their personal reasons, don’t want to take the vaccine, so we live in interesting times.

USA coach Gary Gold

South African Gary Gold, USA’s head coach (Sportsfile/Getty)

In July, we played England at Twickenham and Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. These were our first Test matches since the 2019 World Cup. We lost both matches but it was valuable time spent together. We need more of it.

The England game pleased me in parts. It reaffirmed the view that from a conditioning point of view we still have a way to go, but there were positives. When we looked after ball we asked a lot of questions and scored some tries. That second half was encouraging because we showed some rugby nous.

In both games you saw the value of daily strength and conditioning regimes. Their guys have it and ours don’t have it at that level. We showed that we could live with that England team for large passages, though. We defended for long spells and held them out. And we also capped eight guys in the two games, so these are the things you focus on.

We had some injuries to key players but the upside is that we deepened the pool. AJ MacGinty, Titi Lamositele and Tony Lamborn all missed the summer tour. We picked up injuries to Nick Civetta, Marcel Brache, Will Hooley and Joe Taufete’e, but the upside of that is we gave opportunities to others. Luke Carty took his chance at ten, Mika Kruse and Calvin Whiting took their chance around him.

AJ MacGinty

Sale’s AJ MacGinty is expected to be on the bench after travel issues delayed his arrival in camp (Getty)

We need our big players back as soon as possible but we’re glad we added to the group of guys who have played huge opposition in big stadiums, who stood up well to the challenge.

The Canada games are absolutely imperative. If we get through those, we play Uruguay and if we get through that then we’re in the World Cup. It’s essential we make it critical.

We have a good record against Canada but it’s a formidable rivalry we have with them and we’re not taking it lightly. They had time together in the summer as well and they’ve improved greatly under Kingsley Jones and Rob Howley.

We need to qualify for the World Cup in order to keep up the momentum of the MLR [Major League Rugby], which is growing. We want more Tests but very little is happening on that front, sadly. But at least we have our own professional league.

Related: LA Giltinis win MLR title

We have 150-plus guys training and playing at a higher level than before, we have guys learning about S&C and game management, we have a pathway from college to a life in rugby, we have a chance to offer American kids a bit of a career playing our sport.

Getting to the World Cup and the profile that comes with it is a vital part of keeping all that going. We might exist in the shadows of the global game, but this is a massive time for us.”

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