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The United States is, and I hope you’re sitting down, 3-0 in its last three 15s meetings with Canada. Only one of the wins I’m including in that motley record includes both countries’ top teams – the full-fledged Eagles snapped a five-year, seven-game losing streak to Canada with a thrilling 38-35 win June 21st in Sacramento, Calif.
The other two wins were in the Americas Rugby Championship, which pits the “second teams” of USA, Canada and Argentina, and Uruguay’s full National Team, against one another. The USA Selects beat Canada A, 30-10, in the 2013 ARC, and Wednesday night they beat them, 16-3.
In 2012 and 2010 (the ARC is not contested in World Cup years, so it was dormant in 2011), the Americans were felled 23-3 and 17-6 by the Canadians, respectively. In 2009, the Selects lost to the Ontario Blues, one of Canada’s four provincial sides. That’s the equivalent of Canada A losing to the Midwest Thunderbirds.
So this little streak has significance. It marks the time USA Rugby’s flagship men’s 15s teams stopped losing every single game to Rugby Canada’s top men’s teams.
In a column I penned 15 months ago, I addressed the Canadian rivalry, and the fact that we, as members of the American rugby community, needed to look at it through a different lens. I talked about Canada’s ownership of the USA in 15s and 7s, and that we couldn’t possibly pretend to be progressing quickly enough as a rugby nation if we continued to trail the Canadians.
I talked to Eagles head coach Mike Tolkin last week ahead of the ARC, and said, ‘Maybe I’m making too much of this rivalry with Canada’. He stopped me and told me I wasn’t. He acknowledged that, after a tough summer campaign in 2013, the Selects’ win over Canada provided a platform of confidence that helped springboard the Eagles into a competitive game with the Maori All Blacks and a successful autumn tour.
Now, I’m not professing we’ve caught Canada. One could easily argue the Eagles were lucky to win in Sacramento, and point to the World Cup qualifiers of 2013, as evidence that we’re not there. I can’t discredit those points, and it takes more than a few wins to balance out nearly four decades of dominance. But, recent results indicate we are making strides, and Tolkin’s acknowledgement of the importance of the border series indicates the Eagles now have their focus where it should be.
To boot, Mike Friday is 1-0 against Canada’s 7s squad. It’s only one game, and it was a two-point result, but beating Canada feels good. And it’s an attainable performance indicator for both the 15s and 7s programs. Friday, too, has talked about how important beating Canada is, especially with Olympic qualification looming.
Tolkin's team will likely have a couple of 'friendly' matches with Canada in the lead up to next year's World Cup, and Friday's charges will probably meed the Maple Leafs again before the North American qualifier for Rio in June. Now, at least, there are some recent results to indicate those matches could go in the Americans' favor. #BlueNation