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Seamus Kelly grinding for yards. Abel Barrientes photo

The Eagles take on Canada for the second time in three weeks later today, and their looking for their first-ever three-peat over their fierce rivals. Four times the USA has won back-to-back matches over Canada, but never three in a row.

Head coach Mike Tolkin’s charges needed a walk-off AJ MacGinty drop goal to usurp Canada, 15-13, a few weeks ago in Vancouver. And it took a miraculous 17-point second-half comeback to end a seven-game losing streak to Canada last summer in Sacramento. Team USA expects nothing easier today.

“It’s going to be a very difficult game. Playing Canada on their soil is difficult. Any test match is difficult. I think they probably know this is looming, too,” said Tolkin.

“I’m sure they’ve heard it, the three games, and they’re going to come out like hornets out of the nest. It won’t be easy, but that’ll be a good challenge for the guys. If we want things we’ve never hard, we’ve got to do things we’ve never done.”

The front row is unchanged from the last match. The back row has just a slight tweak with Al McFarland starting instead of coming off the bench. And there are just a couple of changes in the backs. One area of focus will be on the second row, where Cam Dolan and Greg Peterson start and get another opportunity for valuable game time and to prove their worth ahead of final World Cup selections.

“For [Peterson] it was just about getting game time. He hadn’t played at all really – no time with Leicester. He was just building up game time. That was a lot of the PNC goal for us,” said Tolkin of his massive Australian second row, who’s had a mixed showing so far this summer.

“Cam hasn’t played a lot of rugby in the last six months, so he needed that game time. He’s getting better each game. He’s still not putting in the performance we want, yet, but I think he’s practicing better, so hopefully we see it.”

Another spot up for grabs is inside center. “There are still questions in the centers,” said Tolkin. “I think Seamus is playing really well, but that 12 spot is going to be a battle for sure.” Andrew Suniula started the last game, but today is Thretton Palamo’s opportunity to stake a claim on the position.  

A couple of trusted veterans, Hayden Smith and Scott LaValla, are being held out because of slight injuries that wouldn’t prevent them from playing in the RWC, and two more didn’t make the trip to Canada – Takudzwa Ngwenya and Samu Manoa. Save those guys and a couple of the positional battles yet to be settled, Saturday’s team is pretty close to that which Tolkin hopes to field in England in a month’s time.

“We have 31 guys who are looking to get into the World Cup, and we have to be able to rely on them to be put in the lineup and put a performance in that’s capable of beating Canada,” said the head man. “It is a slight rotation, but in the end we have to be able to rely on these guys to do their part and contribute and win an international.”