Must-win match for Eagles on the horizon

BOULDER, Colo. – Despite a five-match winless streak this year, the Men’s Eagles have their most important match against their biggest rival, Canada, August 17 at Charleston’s Blackbaud Stadium.

The match will be the first leg of the 2015 IRB Rugby World Cup Qualifier against the Maple Leafs, with the second being hosted by Rugby Canada at Toronto’s BMO Field August 24.

It was a little over four years ago – July 4, 2009 – the last time the Eagles defeated Canada in an international fixture. Coincidentally, the match was played at Blackbaud Stadium in a 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup Qualifier.

“I was there in 2009 as the defense coach,” Eagles Head Coach Mike Tolkin said. “That was on July 4, so there was added patriotism in the air, but I think that this again being a Qualifier against Canada will bring out another enthusiastic crowd.”

Though they won the match in South Carolina 12-6, an 18-41 loss at Ellerslie Rugby Park in the return leg put the Eagles in an uneasy, do-or-die qualification playoff against Uruguay. The Eagles did not falter, however, defeating the South Americans 27-22 and 27-6 to secure their place in New Zealand.

History could very well repeat itself this year, as Uruguay awaits the loser of the series for the final Americas qualifying spot for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Argentina has already qualified by finishing second in Pool B at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

“We have to do well in the first leg, get a win and get some points,” USA Rugby Chief Executive Officer and President of Rugby Operations Nigel Melville said. “Then it’s not a case of going up to Toronto and setting up shop, because you can’t do that. They will be two competitive games.”

Since the Independence Day win in 2009, the Eagles have faced Canada five times with four of those matches being played north of the border. The most recent match between the two was held at Ellerslie Rugby Park in Edmonton, Alberta, May 25 of this year in the opening match of the IRB Pacific Nations Cup. The Eagles kept Canada to one try, but could only muster three penalty kicks from the foot of Adam Siddall in the 9-16 loss.

It is not just the Men’s Eagles who have struggled against Canada in recent times. The Men’s and Women’s Eagles Sevens teams finished a combined 1-1-6 against the Canucks in the IRB HSBC Sevens World Series and IRB Women’s Sevens World Series. The men recorded the only win, 26-12 at Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens in August.

“We know how hard it is to play against Canada, they’re a great team,” Melville said. “We’re so close in so many ways and the results have been closer and closer over the years. No doubt this will be close; hopefully it will be in our favor.”

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Having played Canada less than three months ago, the Eagles will be better prepared for the must-win match in Charleston. On top of the familiarity, Tolkin has been able to test different combinations on the field with five matches this summer and see who will step up in the next few years from the younger ranks.

“The attack picked up momentum and we executed better in that area,” Tolkin said. “The experience that the newer and younger players got will help us to be a deeper and more experienced team. It created productive competition and allows us to be prepared for more unexpected situations shout they arise.”

A full, healthy lineup is anticipated for the match, with international professionals including Samu Manoa, Chris Wyles, and Taku Ngwenya expected to be made available by their clubs.

“It’s been good to get players back from injuries and other players who haven’t played in a while,” Melville said. “We’ll be at full strength, which is a good thing, and we haven’t been at full strength.

“There’s some exciting talent coming through. I think they’re very focused on this game and it’s been a big focus for them going through June. They’ve been building towards this fixture.”

After the recent record-breaking attendance at the Eagles’ match against Ireland at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium June 8, the Eagles are hoping for a sell-out at Blackbaud Stadium.

“Canada was pretty keen to play there again,” Melville said. “It’s a nice, tight little stadium. It was a great atmosphere last time, the people of Charleston got behind it, behind the team. Everyone says it’s going to be hot, but it’s hot everywhere at the moment.

“We’re expecting a big start from them in Charleston.”

Tickets for the Qualifier can be purchased on the Charleston Battery website here. Be on the look-out for more information regarding events surrounding #USAvCAN on Twitter by following @USARugby and liking USA Rugby on Facebook.