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RWC 2023 qualification · 3 min read
Portugal take on Kenya and USA play Hong Kong in Dubai this Saturday as teams chase the 20th and final place at Rugby World Cup 2023.
The USA and Portugal will attempt to continue their winning starts to the Rugby World Cup 2023 Final Qualification Tournament when the action continues in Dubai on Saturday.
Both teams began their bid to secure the 20th and final place at next year’s showpiece tournament with bonus-point victories at The Sevens Stadium last weekend.
It is the USA who currently lead the standings on points difference and they will hope to build on their win against Kenya when they take on Hong Kong at 18:30 local time (GMT+4).
Before that, match-day two will get underway when Portugal play Kenya, kick-off at 16:00 local time.
Kenya and Hong Kong both need to win to maintain their hopes of qualifying for RWC 2023 ahead of the final matches on 18 November.
Kenya can take heart from the fact they beat Portugal in their only previous test meeting as they bid to rebound from their opening 68-14 defeat to the USA.
The Simbas beat Os Lobos 41-15 in Nairobi in 2015, with Darwin Mukidza contributing 16 points to the victory on his international debut.
Mukidza lined up at full-back in the defeat to the Eagles but has been rested for Saturday’s match, meaning flanker Martin Owilah is the only survivor from the win in Nairobi who will start in Dubai.
Defeat for Os Lobos seven years ago dropped them to 28th in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, just one place above Kenya.
However, the teams have been on contrasting trajectories in recent years and there are 15 places separating Portugal in 19th and Kenya in 34th ahead of Saturday’s match.
Portugal cannot improve their rating with victory over Kenya due to the 13.47 rating points between them and Os Lobos will slip one place below the USA should the Eagles beat Hong Kong by more than 15 points.
They will have to do that with a much-changed side after coach Patrice Lagisquet made nine personnel changes to his starting line-up.
Simbas coach Paul Odera has made eight changes to his starting line-up for Saturday’s match, including handing a debut to uncapped fly-half Amon Wamalwa.
“The game against the USA was a physical one so we have gone for slight rotation in the squad,” Kenya assistant coach Mike Aung said. “We have gone for a quicker pack and backline as well.”
Hong Kong and the USA will meet for the first time in more than 24 years when they take to The Sevens Stadium pitch on Saturday.
Like Kenya, it is the team lower in the rankings, Hong Kong, that have enjoyed the better of the historical head-to-head between the two nations.
The USA have won only three of their seven matches against their Asian opponents, losing the other four.
The most recent of those being a 27-17 defeat in San Francisco during the Pacific Rim Championship in 1998, a tournament in which Hong Kong beat the North Americans home and away.
Hong Kong need to win again on Saturday if they are to have any hope of qualifying for RWC 2023 heading into the final round of Final Qualification Tournament matches.
If they were to beat the Eagles by more than 15 points then Hong Kong would move above them in the rankings for the first time in their history, dumping the USA out of the top 20 for the first time ever.
Having surrendered 19th place to Portugal despite scoring 10 tries to beat Kenya 68-14 last weekend, the Eagles need to win by more than 15 points this Saturday to move back above Os Lobos.
USA coach Gary Gold has made five changes to his starting line-up as captain AJ MacGinty returns to the number 10 jersey having started match-day one on the bench. Replacement prop Chance Wenglewski comes into the 23.
“In certain positions we've made a decision to change things around a little bit,” Gold said. “It's not total wholesale changes.
“David [Ainu'u] starts and Kapeli [Pifeleti Jr.] is in at hooker, AJ [MacGinty] and Ruben [De Haas] coming in at nine and 10. But yeah, consistency across the back row.
“Hong Kong is going to give us a much stronger challenge and we really want to be prepared for that.”