The USA and Canada will walk out into territory that is both familiar and uncharted on Monday, when both teams pull out all the stops to win the inaugural World Rugby Pacific Four Series match.
Created to act as one of the primary annual qualification routes for the top tier of WXV – World Rugby’s new global international women’s 15s competition – the Pacific Four Series will include Australia and New Zealand from 2022 onwards.
For now, though, it is the North American rivals who will get the tournament under way with back-to-back matches at Infinity Park in Glendale on Monday and Friday.
Almost two years since the teams last appeared on the international stage, the opener will be the 40th test between the USA and Canada, who first met in Victoria in November 1987.
The squad assemble ahead of Autumn Internationals 🙌 pic.twitter.com/Awp1Qmrvr0— USA Rugby (@USARugby) October 26, 2021
“I don't think words can do it justice. I mean, it's been a very long journey to get back to test match rugby, and we're just really grateful that we have the opportunity to actually represent the country again,” USA coach Rob Cain told World Rugby.
“The players, I can't even put into words how excited they are.”
Asked how exciting it is to be kicking off the new tournament, Cain added: “Hugely, and not just for us.
“But, when you look at the aspirations of all the players playing at college level and the players that are playing at high school now, we're going to have a guaranteed, really, really meaningful competition which allows people to strive for [something].”
“We’re in a really good place”
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic neither team has played since their two-match series in San Diego two years ago.
Cain and his coaching staff created training plans for the players during lockdown, while 12 of the current squad have left the USA for England over the past two years to take part in the Premier 15s.
Former Saracens coach Cain has been able to keep in weekly contact with his players while they have been in England and hopes to see the benefits of their time overseas on the road to Rugby World Cup 2021.
“We’re in a really good place. We know exactly what we're trying to do, and we're in a much better place of bringing what we want to do to life,” he said.
“So, we're excited the test matches will give us an opportunity to showcase that.
“We’re really beginning to see the benefit from those three or four players [who went to England initially].
“So, we're hopeful that with the numbers that we have over there [now], that we'll really start to see the benefit as we get to the World Cup.
“You know, their experiences come from the games they play, so playing 18-20 games in the league is a really good opportunity for them.”
Tough test matches
Canada arrived in Colorado on Tuesday and have been training twice a day since then to ensure that the team is ready for Monday’s first assignment.
Sandro Fiorino’s squad contains 11 players who currently play in England or France, and currently sit third in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings.
The Canadians have lost just one of their last six tests against the USA, that defeat coming in July 2019, and Cain is aware his side – sixth in the rankings – face two stern tests in Glendale.
“They’re a very good team,” he said, “they’ll be extremely organised and they’ll be a threat with and without the ball.”
With less than a year to go until the start of RWC 2021, where the USA have been drawn alongside Canada in Pool B, Cain acknowledges these matches and the teams’ subsequent tests in Europe are “very, very important”.
However, he does not believe the results at Infinity Park will have any bearing on events in New Zealand next October.
“I don't think so, no,” he said. “We spoke after the last Can-Ams in ‘19 about how we really wanted to push on after that last game and we were very frustrated.
“So that's been our mindset coming in. We're really looking to put some of those issues that we spoke about right, even though it's been two years, and use that as a platform to really push on.”