With over 13,000 tickets already sold and a raucous atmosphere expected at BC Place, Canada will be hoping that home advantage counts for plenty as they look to overturn the 17-13 loss they suffered in Punta del Este in last year’s tournament and head to Montevideo for the return fixture in a week’s time on the front foot.
Canada’s loss to the USA in the second leg of the Americas 1 qualifier resulted in this home-and-away play-off series against Los Teros, which concludes at the Estadio Charrua in the Uruguayan capital in the presence of the Webb Ellis Cup on 3 February.
On the same day, the other four teams will begin their ARC campaigns, and both games promise to be equally as exciting. Chile host Brazil in Santiago and recent games between the two have been too close to call. The same applies to the clash in California between last year’s main title protagonists, the USA and Argentina XV, who have shared the spoils in the only two previous games at this level.
Although Canada have six players unavailable through injury for their game at BC Place on Saturday, they can count on the dangerous trio of Taylor Paris at full-back, flanked by the returning Jeff Hassler and DTH van der Merwe who will want to add to his 28 tries – a Canadian record – on the wings.
Former captain Tyler Ardron also features in a big Canadian pack that will try to unsettle a solid and experienced Uruguayan side that has the luxury of having every eligible player available. The biggest story is the return to the test arena of France-based lock Rodrigo Capo Ortega. He was at number eight the first time Uruguay beat Canada, in the qualifying rounds for RWC 2003.
Should Los Teros coach Esteban Meneses need to alter the course of the game he has plenty of firepower available on the bench, including three players with experience of the RWC 2015 in Agustín Ormaechea, Gastón Mieres and Joaquín Prada. Sat alongside them is the hot prospect, 20-year-old second-rower Manuel Leindlaker, a veteran of three World Rugby U20 Trophy campaigns.
Canada and Uruguay have stated their intent to play open rugby and with so much on the line, fans at the ground and those watching around the world are set for an enthralling game.
February 3 matches
Chile v Brazil (15:10 local time)
History is not on Brazil’s side when looking at their past record against Chile. Three wins and two draws in 26 games since 1951 shows a clear Chilean superiority. The last six games, though, tell a different story with two wins and a draw for Os Tupis – all at home. The gap is clearly closing.
On their last two visits to Chile, the margin of defeat has been five points or less, most recently in May 2017 when Chile edged them, 15-10, thanks to a 75th-minute try from Tomas Dussaillant.
After their European tour in November, which produced a narrow win over Belgium and defeats to Spain and Germany, the squad was given a couple of weeks off and they have since been working in preparation for the tournament.
The big news for coach Rodolfo Ambrosio is the return of experienced prop Jardel Vettorato. The highway policeman was recently transferred back to the rugby-playing South having previously been based in the Matto Grosso area, near the Amazon, where rugby has yet to take hold.
USA v Argentina XV (17:10 local time)
With the lead changing hands seven times in Houston, USA fought out a 35-35 draw with Argentina XV in the opening round of the inaugural ARC two years ago. The Argentines went on to win the tournament.
Last year, in a title-deciding final round game in Comodoro Rivadavia, the home-side squandered a 12-point lead as the Eagles stormed back to claim a last-minute draw that handed them the title. It was only when John Mitchell, in his final throes as the Eagles coach, came onto the pitch to tell the players they had won the tournament on points differential that they realised the trophy was theirs.
This year’s match-up at the StubHub Center in Carson City follows a Super Rugby pre-season friendly between the South African franchises, the Bulls and the Stormers. The first-ever Super Rugby game held in the States will no doubt make new Eagles head coach and former Springboks assistant Gary Gold feel right at home.
But with the outcome of the last two clashes between the USA and Argentina effectively deciding the title, there is plenty of excitement surrounding this match