By Frankie Deges, in Victoria
USA Select co-captain Phil Thiel admits there will be an element of revenge in the minds of his teammates when they prepare to take on Canada A in sun-kissed Langford, Victoria, on Tuesday.
Thiel featured in both Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifier losses to Canada in August, and while acknowledging the forthcoming second round IRB Americas Rugby Championship tie against their rivals is not quite on the same scale, the Michigan-born hooker says his side won’t lack for any motivation.
“It is not the same, as those were full internationals and this is a different format, yet we are all here to prove a point," he said, as his side dined by the Strait of Georgia, with the USA in the background.
“We are really excited about this game; it is the kind of match we are all here for. We will go after each other but have great respect for them, too.”
USA Select head coach Mike Tolkin has resisted the temptation to completely overhaul the team beaten 27-9 by Argentina Jaguars in round one.
Five new faces are present on the starting roster as excitement mounts ahead of what is always a keenly anticipated clash given the fact that both nations share an 8,891km long border.
Captain Cam Dolan returns to number 8 in a back row missing flanker Liam Murphy, who sustained a shoulder injury on Friday and is replaced by Derek Asbun. Thiel returns at hooker alongside props Nick Wallace and Chris Sullivan, while Adam Siddall, scorer of all nine of USA's points against the Jaguars, misses out, with Joe Cowley filling in at full back.
In the other camp, the Canadians have made 10 changes for the match at Westhills Stadium.
Having lost influential leader Andrew Tiedemann to injury, experienced flanker Adam Kleeberger will captain the side from number 8. South African-born Giuseppe du Toit, aged 18, starts at fly half less than two months after playing age grade rugby for British Columbia.
“He is a great player with a huge future,” said Kleeberger. “He is here to learn and playing against the USA Select XV is always an important experience.”
Kleeberger, who no longer sports the huge beard that was once a much remarked upon feature, is expecting a tough game against USA Select.
“They are our neighbours and we play them often. There is a lot of passion involved but we need to focus on our own game. We’ve worked hard on our work at the breakdown in training, as that was an issue against Uruguay.”
Jaguars put their trust in youth
Like their North American counterparts, Argentina Jaguars and Uruguay have gone down the squad rotation route as they look to expose more players to higher intensity rugby in what is a key development tournament in the international arena.
Jaguars head coach Daniel Hourcade has made 11 changes to his starting line-up, as the three-time Americas Rugby Championship winners kick off proceedings on Tuesday with a River Plate derby against Uruguay.
Captain and full back Joaquín Tuculet, the star of the opening night win over USA Select, moves to the left wing to accommodate former Under 20 international Ramiro Moyano. Matías Orlando, a try scorer from the wing, moves to centre, while only second row Matías Alemano and try scoring flanker Martín Chiappesoni are retained in the starting fifteen.
Patricio Fernández, who starred in this year’s IRB Junior World Championship and is eligible for next year’s tournament, will play at fly half. “I hope I can enjoy the experience of starting in this tournament. We are expecting a very hard game as we know Uruguay has a good team,” he said.
After picking up a bonus point win in their first match, Argentina Jaguars are will be looking to extend a nine-match winning run at the tournament that dates back to 2009.
However Uruguay are still smarting from their last-gasp, 17-10 loss to Canada A on Friday and are likely to be difficult opponents.
History shows that no Uruguayan XV has managed to beat an Argentine national team since the fierce rivalry began in the 1950's.
Coach Pablo Lemoine has made 10 changes to the side downed by Mike Scholz’s late try as they bid to put to upset the record books.
Captain Arturo Avalos will start his second game in the ARC. “We had a good opening game, both in attack and defence and we're hoping to take it from there against the Jaguars,” he commented.
“A lack of experience caught us in the end, but there are many positives to take into the game against Jaguars. We have already played them this year and we know what to expect.”
Going into the second round of matches, Argentina Jaguars lead the way by one point from Canada A, Uruguay are third thanks to the losing bonus point they picked up on Friday, while USA Select are without a point at this stage.
Round two fixtures:
Argentina Jaguars v Uruguay, at 18:00 (Pacific Time)
Canada A v USA Select XV, at 20:00 (Pacific Time)