There could be double delight for USA in the Fijian capital of Suva on Saturday as the Eagles chase their first World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup title and a possible all-time high of 11th in the World Rugby Rankings.
To do this, they would need to beat Japan by more than 15 points – a difficult task given that the Brave Blossoms are also unbeaten and looking in good form following impressive wins against Fiji and Tonga. Like the USA, Jamie Joseph's men have rankings history in their sights as a record-equalling ninth place could be theirs if they win and the result of the Rugby Championship match between Argentina and South Africa in Salta falls in their favour.
Either side of the title decider, there are two fixtures of equal importance in terms of Rugby World Cup 2019 preparations with Tonga up against Canada in Lautoka, Fiji, on Friday, while Fiji and Samoa bring the curtain down on the tournament for another year when they meet at the ANZ Stadium in Suva straight after the all-important USA-Japan encounter.
TONGA (15) v CANADA (21)
Tonga have made nine changes, three of them positional, as they look to bounce back from their 41-7 defeat to Japan with victory in this battle between the teams propping up their respective pools.
Siale Piutau captains the side once again but at inside centre after Malietoa Hingano was named at 13. The other positional changes see last weekend's try-scorer Leva Fifita wear the four jersey instead of five to accommodate the return of Sam Lousi into the second row, while Sitiveni Mafi moves from second-row to blindside flanker. The other new additions to the pack include Paula Ngauamo at hooker, Siua Halanukonuka at tight-head and Zane Kapeli at number eight.
In the backs, James Faiva makes his second start at fly-half and Viliami Lolohead comes back onto the wing.
Canada are also searching for their first win of the campaign and will feel this match represents their best hope after defeats to the USA and Fiji.
Coach Kingsley Jones has made 10 changes all told with eight new faces brought into the side in addition to positional switches for Kyle Baillie (second-row to blindside flanker) and Gordon McRorie (scrum-half to fly-half).
Djustice Sears-Duru, Canada's most-capped player off the bench, gets a start at loose-head and Matt Tierney comes into the front row on the tight-head. Mike Sheppard and Evan Olmstead form a new-look second-row partnership, while Tyler Ardron joins Baillie and Lucas Rumball in the back row and captains the side from number eight.
Phil Mack takes over the scrum-half duties from McRorie and the other changes to the backline come in the form of DTH van der Merwe on the left-wing and Ben LeSage at outside centre. Having been named at inside centre, Ciaran Hearn is the only Canadian player to have started all three PNC 2019 matches.
- This is the ninth meeting between the teams. Canada lead the head-to-head 5-3
- Two of Tonga’s three wins have come on Canadian soil while Canada have won all three meetings on neutral soil – all at Rugby World Cups
- Canada have only won one of their six tests this year (56-0 v Chile)
- Tonga are on a four-match losing streak in tests
- Both teams have scored four tries this tournament – the joint lowest with Samoa
- Canada have conceded 12 tournament tries – 50 per cent more than the next worst defence
- Neither team can improve their ranking in victory
- Tonga will swap places with Samoa if they lose and the Samoans draw with or beat Fiji
- If Tonga lose by more than 15 points, then this swap will happen even if Samoa lose
HIGHLIGHTS | @Aj_MacGinty scored all 13 points last Friday when the #USMNTXVs beat Samoa with a penalty kick at fulltime in Round Two of #PNC2019.— USA Rugby (@USARugby) August 5, 2019
Full replay on @NBCSportsGold.
WATCH » https://t.co/Y0I7YdManx pic.twitter.com/oyQxX4jdig
USA (13) v JAPAN (11)
Mike Sosene-Feagai will start at hooker in his first appearance for the Eagles since facing Uruguay in 2016. There are four other changes in the pack with Nate Brakeley replacing Ben Landry in the second-row while flankers Malon Al-Jiboori and Hanco Germishuys joining newly-capped number eight Jamason Fa’anana Schultz in a revamped back-row.
Shaun Davies is back at scrum-half to partner AJ MacGinty in the half-backs and Madison Hughes and Marcel Brache come into the side on the left-wing and at outside centre respectively. From the bench, Thretton Palamo could make his first appearance since facing Tonga in 2016. Palamo returns after a long-awaited recovery from injury.
Japan have made eight changes of personnel and one positional as William Tupou shifts to outside centre from full-back to accommodate the arrival of Ryohei Yamanaka into the starting line-up. The other backline changes include Fumiaki Tanaka at scrum-half and Kenki Fukuoka on the left-wing.
Jamie Joseph has elected to stick with the same front-row of Keita Inagaki, Shota Horie and Asaeli Ai Valu but James Moore and Uwe Helu are new additions to the second-row and captain Michael Leitch now has two new colleagues in the back-row in openside Pieter Labuschagne and number eight Hendrik Tui.
- The winner will be crowned Pacific Nations Cup champions
- USA have never won the title before but Japan were crowned outright champions in 2011 and shared the title in 2014
- This is the 24th meeting between the teams. The USA leads the head-to-head 13-9 with one draw
- Japan won the last meeting between the teams, 28-18 at Kingsholm in Gloucester at RWC 2015
- Japan are top try-scorers (10) and top point-scorers (75) in this year's competition
- Hooker Shota Horie scored a try when Japan won their maiden Pacific Nations Cup title in 2011
- Japan will climb above Fiji with victory – even if Fiji also beat Samoa
- Japan can equal their highest ever ranking of ninth if the above happens and Argentina also lose at home to South Africa
- The USA will drop below Italy in defeat, even if the Azzurri also lose to Ireland in Dublin
- The Eagles could also drop one in victory if Italy beat Ireland – unless they win by more than 15 points
- The USA will climb two places to a new high of 11th if win by more than 15 points and would be higher ranked of the nations with Japan dropping to 12th in this scenario
FIJI (9) v SAMOA (16)
Powerhouse winger Vereniki Goneva makes his first appearance for Fiji since last November's famous victory over France after being named in a completely new backline by coach John McKee. Frank Lomani and Ben Volavola get the nod at half-back as Fiji look to end their PNC 2019 campaign on a high, while Levani Botia and Semi Radradra form the midfield combination. Patrick Osborne is on the left wing with Goneva on the right and Setareki Tuicuvu lines up at full-back.
In the pack, Sam Matavesi is selected at hooker in an otherwise unchanged front row, Tefvita Cavubati joins Leone Nakarawa in the second row and Dominiko Waqaniburotu returns to captain the side from the blindside.
Only four of the players that started last weekend's 13-10 loss to the USA retain their places for Samoa. Filo Paulo remains in the second-row while TJ Ioane moves from openside to number eight. In the backs, outside centre Kieron Fonotia and full-back Ahsee Tuala survive the cut.
Logovi'i Munipola, Motu Matu'u and Paul Alo Emile form an all-new front-row partnership and Kane Leaupepe joins Paulo in the second row. Jack Lam captains Samoa for the fourth time at openside and Chris Vui packs down on the other flank.
Dwayne Polataivao and Ulupano Seuteni are the half-backs, Reynold Lee-Lo makes up the midfield with Fonotia and Belgium Tuatagaloa and Alapati Leiua line up on the wings.
- This is the 52nd meeting between the sides. Fiji lead the head-to-head 28-20 with three draws
- Fiji have won the last four meetings since a 30-30 draw in 2015
- Samoa’s last win in the fixture came at ANZ Stadium in 2014 (18-13)
- Vereniki Goneva needs one try to become Fiji's all-time leading try-scorer. He is currently tied with Sanivalati Laulau on 20
- Fiji cannot climb the rankings with victory, but will drop if Japan win or Argentina manage at least a draw against South Africa
- They could fall as low as 13th with a defeat by more than 15 points – something they haven’t suffered since a 27-7 loss to Samoa at RWC 2011 – although this would need Italy to also beat Ireland as emphatically
- Samoa can climb three places if they win by more than 15 points and the USA and Tonga both lose by the same margin
The World Rugby Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 UK time.