The USA could win their second consecutive Americas Rugby Championship title with a round to spare if they beat Brazil in Sao José dos Campos and other results on Saturday go their way.
If the Eagles win, Argentina XV and Uruguay need to beat Canada and Chile to stay in the hunt for the continent’s most coveted prize while Los Teros know they could play a vital role in deciding the destiny of the title when they host the defending champions in the final round, on 3 March.
Topping the standings with 14 points after three wins, the Eagles have not lost an Americas Rugby Championship match since Uruguay beat them in the final round of the inaugural tournament in 2016. They are closely followed by Argentina XV on 11 points with Uruguay in third place on nine.
Saturday’s programme opens with winless Chile at home to rivals Uruguay at Estadio La Pintana in Santiago. The home side are desperate for a win, having gone without one in their last 12 matches in the competition.
Los Condores coach Mark Cross welcomes the return flanker Anton Petrowitsch from club commitments in Portugal and he starts on the openside. Scrum-half Domingo Saavedra will make his first test start as Beltrán Vergara drops to the bench. Chile will need to produce their best performance if they want to turn around a record of only four wins in the last 20 games against Los Teros.
Following in the footsteps of his older brother Santiago, who led Uruguay at RWC 2015, Andrés Vilaseca will captain Los Teros in the absence of injured Juan Manuel Gaminara and Alejandro Nieto, who captained the team last week and is now on a club tour in New Zealand. Prop Mario Sagario and winger Nicolás Freitas are also injured.
Coach Esteban Meneses has had to make three changes to his backline, including the return of Leandro Leivas, whose father passed away on the eve of last weekend's loss to Argentina XV, and three in the forwards, with a bench that only has one player from seven days ago in front row Matías Benítez.
Los Teros won their last ARC meeting with Chile to be played in Santiago, 23-20, with try scorers Federico Favaro and Rodrigo Silva among the six returning players. Only four from the Chile team that day are still in the starting XV.
Brazil came of age in the Americas Rugby Championship when they beat USA 24-23 in Sao Paulo in the final round of the inaugural tournament in 2016, thanks to a last-gasp penalty from Moisés Duque. That was the first time the sides had met, with the Eagles exacting revenge 12 months later on home soil in the return match.
Duque no longer has the kicking responsibility, that is now the domain of Josh Reeves, but will be playing on his home ground, at the Estadio Municipal Martins Pereira in Sao José dos Campos, a hub of Brazilian rugby.
“We are convinced that we will play a lot better than our last game,” said Duque, who plays for the Sao Jose RC. “We want to evolve as a team, play good rugby and win. It is the only way if we want to stay at the highest level.”
Only number eight Andre Arruda remains from last week’s pack, which welcomes the return of captain Yan Rosetti after he missed the loss to Canada with flu. There are only two changes to the backs.
Ahead of their first ARC 2018 game on the road, the Eagles know what to expect after their first venture to Brazilian fields.
"The boys have done an excellent job opening the tournament at home but we need to remain focused and continue to improve in critical areas," said coach Gary Gold. "Our next two matches will be a challenge as both Brazil and Uruguay will need us to put an extra emphasis on the set piece."
Dylan Fawsitt is handed a first start at hooker and captain Nate Augspurger moves to the wing in place of Ryan Matyas, giving Shaun Davies the start at scrum-half. Prop Chris Baumann and flanker Hanco Germishuys and Nick Civetta also return to the starting line-up.
Temperatures will be certainly higher in Jujuy for Argentina XV against Canada than the last time they played in freezing conditions and snow in Langford. But with rain forecast for the evening kick-off at the Estadio 23 de Agosto, weather could again disrupt the game.
Argentina XV have reinforced their goal of developing players by again making wholesale changes, with only five surviving from last week’s line-up against Uruguay in Punta del Este.
Coach Felipe Contepomi knows the challenge his team faces. “Canada is a strong team, with a new coach but they are starting to get their cohesion under him,” he said. “Rather than focusing on any specific rival player, or what they might do, we need to focus on us, on dictating terms.”
Canada return to South America where, three weeks ago, they lost against Uruguay to miss out on the Americas 2 place at Rugby World Cup 2019.
“We’re looking to end the ARC with two strong performances in South America after picking up a big win last weekend against Brazil at home in Langford,” said centre Nick Blevins.
“We need to continue building confidence, which comes through victories, as we prepare for the repechage in November. I know we can and will qualify for the World Cup in 2019 and the journey started with last weekend’s win.”
From that team, Canada's record try-scorer DTH van der Merwe is absent having returned to his club in England, one of three changes and two positional to the team coached by Kingsley Jones.