There are four exciting World Cup quarterfinals this weekend, but one in particular catches the eye.
Over this World Cup, we've partnered with Stats Perform, working alongside the @OptaJonny team exploring which team has the edge at the World Cup.
Together, we take a look at a key game this weekend - Canada v USA.
On paper, Canada’s 29-14 win over the USA just last weekend makes them certain favourites for this one, but though they were always behind on the scoreboard, the Americans were never truly out of the match till the final minutes.
However, Canada are now on a six-game winning streak against their nearest rivals, and whether it can change this weekend depends entirely on the USA’s ability to nullify some vital Canadian strengths – from both a technical and personnel perspective.
On the technical front, Canada have the best set piece at this World Cup with a 94% lineout success rate and a remarkable 100% scrum success rate, winning 17 of their 17 put ins.
Pressure on the hugely talented hooker Emily Tuttosi and tightening up their own lineout is surely key then this weekend for the USA's hopes of a win.
Because not only do Canada profit hugely from winning their own ball in the air and driving their lineouts (only England have scored more tries from this avenue than them), but they’ve also proved highly effective pilferers in the air.
The Canadians stole seven opposition lineouts in the pool stages, joint most with Italy; with Sophie de Goede and Sara Svoboda both with two steals each.
The captain De Goede has so many strings to her bow that stopping her is essential.
Excellence in the lineout aside, her ability to get over the ball has been truly outstanding and with seven turnovers alone in the pool stages (more than any other player), she plays more like a marauding seven at the breakdown.
She is also a massive problem for defenders with her powerful ball carrying and excellent footwork making her one of the best gainline attackers at this World Cup. Oh and she also kicks goals.
Another possible big threat for the USA to handle is Alysha Corrigan – who despite only getting her first start at the weekend, is surely in contention for the quarterfinal. She was outstanding at outside centre and despite her limited opportunities so far, only Portia Woodman evaded more tackles than in the pool stages of this event. She tore through the middle so many times against the USA last weekend that if she is not on the squad sheet somewhere, she’ll wonder what more she could have done.
But the USA have some key strengths of their own – and though they lost last weekend, it was arguably one of their best performances in years.
Although they did concede tries from the Canadian maul, they also managed to apply pressure at the set piece winning a couple of penalties on their own ball and defended heroically at times in what was surely the most physical matches of the competition.
The USA rely on physically dominating teams in defence, with flankers like Rachel and Kathryn Johnson putting in huge hits from the backrow, and last weekend they did force Canada to concede an unusually high number of turnovers – 16 in all, though that includes handling errors.
Their challenge in attack is converting some of their best possession into scores.
Though they do get quick ball – only New Zealand have recycled the ball faster than them at this World Cup – they tend to commit more players to their carries than others, meaning when their attack runs through multiple phase play, they often run out of numbers to make their possession count.
They can rely on some world-class players, and they will all need to be at their best.
Hope Rogers has been excellent for many years in the US shirt and along with her ball carrying and set piece work, her tackling has been immaculate at the World Cup – she’s made 44/44 tackles – the only player in New Zealand not to miss one.
Alev Kelter is as ever key too – not just as a goal kicker and brilliant all-round athlete but as a lethal attacker with 17 defenders beaten across the pool stages already.
If last weekend was their best performance under head coach Rob Cain – the USA will still need to find another level to stay in New Zealand for another week.
There is a sense that Canada have coasted through the pool-stages rather under the radar, and that they are being underestimated.
Another convincing win this weekend means no one will fancy playing them in the semifinals.