The next generation of USA and Canadian internationals will be on show in South Carolina this week in a two-leg play-off for the final qualification place at the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2023.

The winner on aggregate across the two matches, on Tuesday and Saturday, will go forward to join Scotland, Uruguay and Zimbabwe in Pool A in Kenya. Pool B is made up of Hong Kong China, Kenya, Samoa and Spain.

The World Rugby U20 Trophy 2023 begins in Nairobi on 15 July and runs until 30 July.

For the USA, qualification would be a long time coming as they have not appeared at the U20 Trophy since 2016, missing the last three tournaments.

Canada, meanwhile, competed in the last edition in 2019 and finished fifth but the enforced break because of the COVID-19 pandemic halted their momentum.

As the USA’s Junior All-American head coach, Kyle Sumsion points out, this is a key development opportunity for the players who are expected to go on and represent their countries at senior level.

"As a nation, we have not qualified for the World Rugby Trophy since 2016, and getting back to that stage is our sole objective as we prepare to play Canada. It is pivotal to our success as a nation as we prepare the next generation of Men's Eagles,” the four-cap former USA player said.

"This group of players makes me very excited for the future of rugby in the USA. These young men are and will continue to be instrumental in shaping the rugby landscape, both within the national team as well as professionally with Major League Rugby, the USA Hawks and the American Raptors.

“Collectively, they are all driven to push USA rugby to new heights and I fully trust them and their ability to do so.

"This group of young men will be well represented at Rugby World Cup 2031 here on home soil, and for many we expect it will be their second Rugby World Cup together.”

The USA have been in camp since the middle of May in preparation for the back-to-back encounters against their fiercest rival.

A veteran of Major League Rugby with Houston and New York, Sumsion has been at the head of the USA men's U20s since 2021. But this is the longest time they will have had together during his time at the helm.

"The time we have had in camp has been invaluable as we build cohesion and trust on and off the pitch. As a team we are constantly chasing our new best and while our desire to improve is insatiable, it has been exciting to see the growth we have made in our time together thus far.

“Canada comes into the qualifier battle-hardened with three games under their belt and have selected a very talented side with a great coaching staff. The long-standing rivalry has always produced physical and dynamic games and we are expecting this year to be no different.

“As a team, we are excited about the challenge that lays in front of us and the honour and privilege we have to represent the USA at home in our back-to-back matches against Canada.”

A vital part of the pathway

Only Uruguay have appeared in more tournaments than Canada’s nine, with a best finish of second place in 2013 and 2015.

Canada are coached by former High School teacher Adam Roberts, who has risen up through Rugby Canada’s coaching ranks having previously held a similar position with the national U17 and U18 sides.

Roberts’ track record in developing players so that they can go on and realise their potential extends to his day job, too. MLR players, Michael Smith and Calixto Martinez, for example, are both alumni of Earl Marriott Secondary where he is currently a director.

As Roberts highlights, the U20 Trophy gives players of this age something unique, a chance to compete against other players from around the world in the same age group, that they would not normally come up against, in a highly competitive environment.

“The World Trophy and overall qualification process is vital to the development of our young players,” he said.

“The competition standards and high performance environments are not as prevalent currently in Canada and we need to challenge the next generation to drive the next wave of players, coaches and administrators.

“As for the importance of qualifying, I believe in the importance of competition and challenging young players. It is hard to replicate that outside of the international competition.

“So the value of the World Trophy is huge because I feel the more opportunities these players are exposed to at this level, that is vital for their development and continued success.”

Canada U20s went on tour to Uruguay last month and were beaten in both games, 21-16 by the host nation and 21-9 against Spain.  

For Roberts, the value of the trip lay beyond the results. “The tour to Uruguay was so important for our growth. We could have done a camp in Canada and still had to fly people in. Instead we all just met in Uruguay,” he said.

“The Uruguayan rugby community was fantastic and opened the opportunity and we were able to train, implement and see how the players responded to intense competition and pressure. It is difficult to emulate that standard without games of that nature.”

Only one try was scored across both games in Uruguay but exciting prospect Brenden Black, normally a hot-stepping full-back/winger for the Toronto Arrows, will continue to lead the attack from fly-half.

Others to look out for in a squad captained by Dublin-based prop Cole Kelly, include uncompromising loose-forward Taine Clague, who hits great running lines, and Noah Flesch, the younger brother of Toronto Arrows and Canada player Mason Flesch.

Through his sheer size alone, two-metre-tall, second-row Caden Wilson is a standout performer, but he also has a Canadian rugby pedigree as the son of a former international. His father, Andy Wilson, was on the bench for Canada in a couple of tests in 1992, against the USA and England.

Given his background working in the USA, Roberts knows from first-hand experience that the Junior All-Americans squad won’t be short of quality either.

“I coached at Western Washington University for a number of years and to watch the growth and evolution of the game in the USA has been tremendous,” he said.

“I strongly believe in the North American sports model of High School, College, pro, and have watched their High School and Collegiate programmes develop exponentially over the last few years so I know their athletes will be a handful.

“Canada v USA across sports is a great rivalry, and I expect both matches to be highly competitive.”