Cam Dolan has played against Canada enough times now to know what it means to both teams.
Twelve of his 53 caps have come against the USA’s fiercest rivals and he has never been on the losing side in the last 10 of those encounters.
However, the 31-year-old from Florida is expecting a serious test when he comes up against Canadian opposition for the 13th time in St John’s, Newfoundland this Saturday.
“With Canada, you can never take them lightly,” he said.
“It is a rivalry, our biggest rivalry, and there is World Cup qualification on the line. It is not just a summer friendly.”
Canada and USA drew 28-28 when they last met on Canadian soil for a Rugby World Cup qualifier in June 2017.
But the Eagles secured the Americas 1 spot for the first time in history in emphatic style when they won the return leg in San Diego, 52-16.
Dolan scored twice and set up another try that day as the Eagles underlined their status as the top North American team.
And the former Northampton Saints and Cardiff Blues player, who now plies his trade in Major League Rugby with NOLA Gold, says the earlier they can qualify for France 2023 the better.
Win the home-and-away series against Canada and the Eagles will face Uruguay on back-to-back weekends at the start of October for the right to compete at RWC 2023 as Americas 1.
“It is crucial for us. If you can get there earlier it is beneficial for funding for training camps and spending time together in camp is the most important thing in terms of prep,” he said.
Dolan is the only player in the Eagles’ squad to have clocked up a half-century of test appearances. Bryce Campbell, the team’s captain on the recent mini tour to England and Ireland, has the next most caps with 34.
The Eagles were beaten in both fixtures against England (43-29) and Ireland (71-10) but Dolan, one of four try-scorers at Twickenham, says the trip was beneficial in so many respects.
“It was great to get hit-ups against that quality of opponent,” he said. “It was tough though because we flew in on Sunday and only had three real practices before we took on England, and then we had a quick turnaround before we took on Ireland, so it was always going to be an uphill battle. But to finally get together after almost two years away was great for us.”
The England match was the first time the Eagles had played since losing to Tonga at RWC 2019. But they defied their hasty build-up and lack of game time to deliver a creditable performance.
In previous visits to Twickenham, the Eagles had never managed to reach double figures in full-blown tests so to score 29 points and cross for four tries was definite progress.
“I think we played well,” Dolan remarked. “There were a few faults in defence which led to some easy tries for them, but to be able to score two maul tries against England is a pretty big achievement for us. That’s one of the things we have worked on over the last couple of years so it is nice to see it come to fruition.
“We also had a couple of open running tries which was really nice. The one scored by Christian Dyer was great. We played through the hands and got to edge with nice interplay and offloads, and to score from 50 metres out was great as well, especially with the short amount of prep time we had.”
In the follow-up match against Ireland, the Eagles kept their higher-ranked opponents at bay for the first 17 minutes but they faded after that. The floodgates opened once Riekert Hattingh received a 54th-minute red card and Ireland proceeded to rack up a record score.
“The first 30 minutes was great but then we got that red card which obviously didn’t help us,” he admitted.
“Playing (a man) down against them with a short turnaround against players on the fringes of the (Ireland) first team who were trying to prove their worth, was very difficult.
“They had 15 ball players across the field and they played really well against us, so hats off to them for that.
“We didn’t do what we set out to do and we were on the back end of a 70-point tail-whipping.”
With next Wednesday marking the two years to go milestone to Rugby World Cup 2023, the 10th edition of the tournament is looming ever larger in the minds of players, coaches and supporters.
The closest Dolan has ever come to playing a test in France was just over the Spanish border, in the Basque city of San Sebastian, and he’d love the chance to play at places like Lille, Nice and Lyon – the venues for matches involving Americas 1 in Pool A.
“To play in my third World Cup there would be fantastic, that’s kind of my goal,” said Dolan, who’ll be 33 by the time the tournament kicks off in Paris on 8 September, 2023.
“I am getting a little long in the tooth but I’ve still got some rugby left in the old legs.”