Estadio Nacional Universidad Complutense in Madrid will host the opening match of the World Rugby Pacific Four Series 2023 when Canada meet the USA on Saturday.
Featuring the North American rivals, Rugby World Cup 2021 winners New Zealand and Australia, this year’s Pacific Four Series acts as the qualification pathway for WXV, with the top three teams securing their place in the top tier for its first two editions.
Canada, who ran England close in the semi-finals before finishing fourth at RWC 2021, head into the encounter on a seven-match winning run against the USA and warmed up for the tournament with a 66-7 defeat of South Africa last weekend.
Paige Farries, who scored one of her side’s 10 tries against the Springbok Women and also crossed in each of Canada’s RWC 2021 wins against the USA in New Zealand last October, insists her team-mates won’t take anything for granted on Saturday.
“I know that we have strung a number of wins [together] consecutively against the USA, but there definitely is no complacency there,” Farries told World Rugby.
“It's just one of those matches that you get yourself up for, and I don't think anyone's taking this game lightly.
“We are incredibly aware of what a great bunch of athletes they are, and we're revved up to play.”
“Pang of pain”
Farries heads into the match in fine form, having scored nine tries in her last nine test appearances, including four at RWC 2021.
However, she admits the memory of the tournament is tinged with a “pang of pain” having suffered an agonising 26-19 semi-final defeat to England and then lost the bronze final to France.
“It honestly was an incredible experience. Not an experience, I think as a team we're actually that satisfied with,” Farries added.
“We had a lot of people say congratulations for getting fourth, getting to the final stage, and we all thought we deserved to be in the final. So, there is still that pang of pain there when we talk about the World Cup because we know that we could have been better.
“We know that if we had had just a few more moments that would have gone our way, we would have been in that final.
“But it honestly was an incredible experience. The whole summer long, spending as much time together as we did and getting to connect and express ourselves fully in that culmination, the pinnacle of the Rugby World Cup, was a truly incredible experience, and I think it's going to carry forward into the next generation of Canadian rugby.”
The Women’s Eagles also prepared for the Pacific Four Series with a win, beating Spain 20-14 in interim head coach Rich Ashfield’s first match in charge.
Ashfield capped eight debutants in that victory but only one of those players, winger Autumn Czaplicki, has been selected to start against Canada as the USA chase a first win against their oldest rivals since July 2019.
“We owe it to ourselves to have a really strong performance against Canada,” USA captain Kate Zackary told World Rugby.
“At the World Cup we gave them really, really positive pictures. We brought out a lot of our game in both matches, but not a complete game, and so I think we owe it to ourselves to give Canada a full 80 minutes because I think that's the performance we've missed a bit at times.”
Striving to be the best
Zackary is one of four players from table-topping English Premier 15s side Exeter Chiefs selected to start for the USA, and they will come up against club-mate and Canada hooker Emily Tuttosi in Madrid.
The USA captain, who will don her usual number eight jersey on Saturday, has been used in the centre by Exeter this season, something she says has “allowed me to see the game very differently”.
“Having the opportunity just, in general, to be playing rugby for 10 months out of the year away from the national team should naturally bring confidence,” Zackary added.
“You're seeing that with myself, Hope [Rogers], Gabby [Cantorna], Rachel Johnson, but similarly we've got girls who've gone now to DMP in Durham, you know, so Meya Bizer, Tess Feury, Rachel Ehrecke.
“You're just seeing that across the board what that difference of continuous rugby does for players. And I think it will only continue to elevate our game that when we're not together, we know that everybody's striving to be the best individual player.”
Farries, who has scored seven tries in 10 matches for the University of Worcester Warriors Women this season, agrees with Zackary’s assessment and says, “it’s nice to see so many Canadians and Americans experiencing the growth of women’s rugby worldwide”.
Standing on the verge of a third Pacific Four Series, though, with assignments against the Wallaroos and Black Ferns to come later in the year, the winger knows the importance of a win on Saturday.
“PAC Four is our biggest focus but WXV is always kind of hanging over us, looking at us and we are expecting to be in tier one,” Farries said.
“That is definitely a goal of ours and that's where we see ourselves, that's how we identify. So, I think that is what's expected of us, and we want to be in that tier one because we want to prove to the world that we deserve to be there, that we are in the top nations.”