Having missed out on qualification for Rugby World Cup 2023, Spain, USA, Canada and Brazil get the chance to compete for silverware over the next two weekends thanks to the introduction of the World Rugby-funded La Vila International Rugby Cup.
Based in the Spanish coastal town of Villajoyosa, La Vila International Rugby Cup will provide all four countries with additional games ahead of the next cycle of Rugby World Cup qualification.
The matches will be streamed live on RugbyPass TV.
New eras and fond farewells
For two of the countries it will mark the beginning of a new era, as Pablo Bouza and Emiliano Caffera take charge of Spain and Brazil, respectively, for the first time.
Meanwhile, USA will look to continue to build on the progress made by Scott Lawrence, which included a prized win over Romania in Bucharest in July, while for Canada it is a different story with Kingsley Jones having just been handed a two-year contract extension through to 2025.
Jones was appointed in 2019 and this will be his 40th test in charge. Only Kieran Crowley has overseen more matches as Canada head coach (59).
The La Vila International Rugby Cup does, however, mark the end of Jones’ fellow Welshman Rob Howley’s three-year association with the team as senior assistant coach.
USA face Brazil and Spain take on Canada in the first of two matchdays on 11 November with the winning teams progressing to the final the following Saturday. The two losing teams will also play-off for third place on the same day.
The US Men’s Eagles go into the tournament highest in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, positioned in 18th, one spot ahead of Spain, while Canada are ranked 23rd and Brazil 26th.
Having been kept apart in the first match, USA and Spain will be favourites to compete for the title, but both of the lower-ranked teams have beaten them before.
Brazil won the first-ever encounter against USA 24-23 in 2016 but have lost the last three meetings since, while Canada have a 2-1 record against Spain, although Los Leones were convincing winners last time out, 57-34 in 2022.
A similar scoreline to the one in 2022 would earn Spain just over half a point but to move above USA, they need the Eagles to slip up as well.
Any form of win for Spain combined with a defeat for USA would result in the teams swapping places.
USA were the highest ranked of the two teams for the first 16 years of the rankings’ existence but in the last few years, Los Leones have had the advantage the majority of the time.
The Eagles, who cannot improve on 18th place in victory, will lose one or two places depending on the margin of defeat, so could equal their all-time low of 20th.
New Eagles captain
AJ MacGinty sustained an injury while playing for his club side Bristol Bears and has been ruled out, depriving the Eagles of their most-experienced fly-half. Another Irish-American, Luke Carty steps into the breach at 10.
Greg Peterson, USA’s captain during July, is also unavailable. However, USA are boosted by the return of Toulouse prop, David Ainu’u, who is set to play his first test for the Eagles since November last year after being named on the bench.
Second-row Nate Brakeley captains the side for the first time in Peterson’s absence, on the occasion of his 33rd test, while Joe Mano is handed his debut on the right wing.
Experienced core for Brazil
For Brazil, flanker Cleber Dias, number eight Andre Arruda and full-back Lucas Tranquez play their 41st tests, as they chase down Moises Duque’s record 55 test appearances for Os Tupis.
New Zealand-born second-row, Ben Donald, will make his test debut if called from the bench.
The side will be captained for the fifth time by second-row Gabriel Paganini.
Spain talisman returns
Spain welcome back prop and talisman, Jon Zabala, for the first time since the 27-10 defeat to Portugal in the Rugby Europe Championship in March.
Zabala wins his 28th cap and his fifth as captain having missed Los Leones’ last two tests, against Romania and Argentina.
Four players are in line to make their senior national team debuts in World Rugby U20 Trophy-winning captain Álvaro García, Marcos Muñiz, Pepe Borraz and Pau Aira.
Top 20 prize
Canada are currently on a three-game losing streak in tests and if they are beaten again their rating will drop below 60 points for the first time.
They were beaten 43-37 by Namibia in November 2022 and then suffered back-to-back defeats to Tonga in the space of five days in August in the ‘Ikale Tahi’s build-up to Rugby World Cup 2023.
However, a surprise victory of more than 15 points against Spain would lift them back into the world’s top 20 and see them become the higher-ranked of the two nations, while a win by a lesser margin would result in them moving above Chile and Namibia into 21st place.
Fifty up for Rumball
Openside Lucas Rumball captains Canada for the 19th time in what will be his 50th test appearance.
Only three Canadians have led their country more – Gareth Rees and Al Charron (25 times each) and Pat Riordan (23).
Kyle Baillie is back in the squad after missing the two-test tour to Tonga a few months ago, to lend more experience to the back row on the other side of the scrum to captain Rumball.
Number eight Matt Oworu and left wing Josiah Morra have crossed over from sevens, while uncapped Seattle Seawolves scrum-half Reid Watkins has been named on the bench.
In addition to the La Vila International Rugby Cup, there are four more matches – three in Europe and one in Africa – that count towards the rankings this weekend.
Having lost the Victoria Cup title decider to Uganda 21-20 last week, Kenya will be looking to bounce back against the same opposition in the Elgon Cup return leg at the Jomo Kenyatta International Stadium in Kisumu.
While Kenya cannot improve their position in the rankings in victory, Uganda could climb to as high as 34th, three off their all-time best.
Kenya could drop to as low as 40th if beaten again by their east African rivals.
In the Rugby Europe Trophy, Lithuania host Switzerland and Croatia take on Ukraine in Makarska.
Both Lithuania and Switzerland won their opening games last weekend and the winners of this weekend’s encounter in Klaipeta will replace Czechia at the top of the standings.
There is also one Rugby Europe Conference match, Latvia v Norway in Pool A.
Photo credit: Walter Degirolmo | RFERugby