TORONTO â€” Canada will know July 1 whether it is taking the short or long road to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
That’s when the 17th-ranked U.S. Eagles and No. 22 Canadians are slated to meet in San Diego for the second leg of their Americas qualifying series. Rugby Canada has yet to announce the site of the first leg, scheduled for June 24.
The tie will be decided in Torero Stadium, a 6,000-seat venue that is home to the University of San Diego football team.
The winner of the two-game aggregate series advances to the 2019 World Cup in Japan. The loser has two more chances to make the field, starting with a home-and-away series against the surviving Americas team (excluding Argentina which has already qualified) with the winner booking its ticket.
The loser of the South American playoff has one more chance to get to Japan, via a world repechage tournament.
With the World Cup draw set for May 10 in Kyoto, Japan, the goal is to qualify early. That allows a team to have more time to prepare for its tournament opponents and research its venues.
Argentina, Australia England, France, Georgia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Scotland, South Africa, Wales and defending champion New Zealand have already qualified for the 20-team field.
Canada has held the upper hand over the U.S. in recent qualifying showdowns.
Canada defeated the Americans 40-20 on aggregate in qualifying for the 2015 tournament, winning 27-9 in Charleston, S.C., and 13-11 in Toronto. The Americans then beat Uruguay 59â€“40 on aggregate to qualify.
Uruguay won the repechage tournament to join the two North American teams at the 2015 tournament in England and Wales, where all three Americas qualifiers finished 0-4-0 at the bottom of their pools.
But Canada has been on a poor run of late.
The Americans easily defeated Canada 51-34 in the recent Americas Rugby Championship in a game that saw both teams missing top players. The U.S. (4-0-1) won the six-team tournament while Canada (1-4-0) finished a disappointing fifth.
Canada will face No. 12 Georgia, on June 10 in Calgary, and No. 16 Romania, on June 17 in Edmonton, to prepare for the U.S. series.
The Americans have June test matches against No. 4 Ireland and Georgia.
“They’ll definitely be good warmups for us,” U.S. coach John Mitchell, a former All Blacks coach, said in a statement. “We feel these two teams will help us prepare for all the game dimensions that will come our way in Rugby World Cup qualifiers.
“Obviously, we want to be more competitive against the top nations in the world, that’s important for us because it brings confidence and weâ€™ll be striving for excellent performances against them, but the last year and a half has been geared towards the World Cup qualifiers.
“To understand the challenge that exists in June, I don’t think we’ve ever beaten Canada in a World Cup qualifier. They have set the benchmark in North American rugby since that process began. They’ve got the history.”
Canada has won eight Rugby World Cup qualifying matches to the Americans’ two and has never lost a series to the Eagles over two legs.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press