By John Birch.
The women's rugby players of the USA and Canada are shaking off the winter chills with their two-game Atlantic Cup series at Lakeland, Florida this month. Never before have Canada broken their winter hibernation this early in the year - four years ago they did not play until the end of April while the USA have never previously played a home international earlier than June. The organisation of this series is a symbol of how seriously both national teams are taking the World Cup this year.
To say that the two squads know each other well would be an understatement. USA, led by Ashley English (pictured above) and Canada have played 23 internationals dating back to 1987 a depth of history and rivalry in a fixture only narrowly exceeded by Englands series with Wales (26 games) and France (25). USA hold a 14-9 lead in the series, but that is mainly due to their dominance of the early years since the last World Cup the two teams have faced each other five times, Canada winning four. However, and perhaps crucially, the last game went to USA, 15-10, during Augusts Nations Cup.
That Nations Cup tournament witnessed a reawakening of American rugby they finished runners-up in the tournament, a position that their Canadian hosts had been expected to finish. With a crushing win over South Africa, a fighting draw against France, and an impressive performance against England the US team finished on a high. This was more than could be said for Canada, who could only beat South Africa and finish fourth. Since then the USA have not played, but Canada embarked on a two game tour to France in November, winning on French soil for the first time before losing the second test.
Which brings us to this week and the Tigertown Athletic Complex in Florida. Both teams are more or less full strength the only major name missing who will be at the World Cup being Canadas Heather Moyse, who is otherwise engaged getting ready for the winter Olympics as brakeman on Canadas bobsleigh team. All things being equal the USA should go into the game with the most confidence, and home advantage, which would point to a narrow American series win though the demands of World Cup and the pressure to get as many squad players as much game time as possible is likely to encourage a degree of squad rotation by the coaching teams, what would always be a tight series even more unpredictable.
However is undoubtedly the Canadians who have most to lose. After the Nations Cup and the 22-0 shutout in Paris, poor performances in this series would be a setback from which they will have little time to recover.
Jan 12th: USA V Canada, Florida, 15.00
Jan 16th: USA U20 V Canada U20, Florida, 13.00
Jan 16th: USA V Florida, 15.00