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But they also know the games won’t be pushovers. Brazil has been training in South Africa and combines physicality with plenty of speed.
Chile has, historically, been very good with the kicking game – happy to use the boot to get past the defensive line and exert pressure.
Canada is enormously physical, and perhaps pose the biggest threat to the Eagles’ goal of going 3-0 in pool play on Saturday in Gadalajara. Eight of the 12 Canadian squadmembers played 15s for Canada in the Rugby World Cup. This could be an issue for them as they have to make a quick transition to 7s. For the USA, the split is very different – three out of 12 played in New Zealand.
Mark Bokhoven has been on USA teams that have won against Canada, and teams that have lost.
“When we get too involved in the emotions of the game against Canada and we play as individuals not as a team, then we have problems,” Bokhoven said. “Look at Wellington earlier this year, when we beat them 35-7. Then in Las Vegas we lost to them because we put too much emotion in the game and didn’t play to our pattern.”
USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville met with the team in Chula Vista and talked to the players about playing at their level, not anyone else’s, and playing at the same level regardless of opponent.
“We have to look at every game as a gold medal game,” said Bokhoven. “We can’t get amped up for some games.”
“We need to take it one game at a time, and play the way we want to play,” added Zack Test. “When we reach the gold medal game, it will be because we did that.”
The USA opens the tournament against Chile at 11am on Saturday. That game is obviously crucial, because Chile will have nothing to lose, and the Eagles will be hoping to slough off any pressure they feel and, as Bokhoven and Test said, play their game.
Then at 1:10pm the USA takes on Brazil, which should be a USA win, and will likely be close at halftime, and then fall the Eagles’ way in the second period.
Then at 3:15, if all goes according to form, it will be 2-0 USA against 2-0 Canada. This game is important because it’s Canada v. USA, and it’s for top spot in the pool, but in the long term it’s not that important. Should the USA lose that match, they will still be in the quarterfinals, against Guyana, Mexico or Uruguay.
Any of those games is eminently winnable. That puts the USA in the semis, where they will play Canada once more.
So it’s that second USA v. Canada game which is the big one. That’s the game that puts the winner in the Gold Medal game.
Argentina, meanwhile, has a relatively easy trip through to the final. They are in the weaker of the two pools, with Mexico, Guyana and Uruguay.
They should win their pool, and then will likely face off with Brazil or Chile in the quarters, and then another South American team in the semis.
Their opponents in the final will be more tested, and perhaps a little more hardened as a result.