Rugby players' work cut out for them

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

The road to the 2011 Rugby World Cup runs through Edmonton for the men's national team.

Tomorrow Canada plays host to the United States (1:30 p.m.) at the Ellerslie Rugby Park for a berth into the 20-team tournament.

Having lost the first leg of the home-and-home series 12-6 last weekend in South Carolina, the Canadians need to win by at least seven points in order to book their tickets to New Zealand.

"Our first focus is on winning the game," said Canadian captain Pat Riordan. "Any game you play, you plan to win by more than seven, because that's the value of a converted try. You never look to just sit on a five-point lead.

"We have to go out to win the game and that's the first step."

Last week the Canadians had a chance to tie the game against the U.S but James Pritchard missed a kick with six minutes left. The Americans then extended their lead three minutes later with a 35-metre kick of their own.

A tie on the road would have given the Canadians a decided advantage in the return leg.

"We need to perform a lot better up front, that's where this game is going to be won or lost," said Canadian head coach Kieran Crowley. "I think they out-muscled us, maybe out-passioned us, whatever you want to call it. We need to have a lot more in our tank this week from that respect."

Canada has competed in every World Cup tournament since its inception in 1987.

Four years ago in France, Canada failed to win a game as they were eliminated in the group stage. Their best appearance came in 1991 when they reached the quarterfinals.

If they fail to beat the U.S. by at least seven points tomorrow, they'll have to get past Uruguay in a home-and-home series in August.

"This is the first time we've had to play in a home-and-home series to qualify," Riordan said. "I think that, currently with our situation, it's a big benefit to play at home. We're expected to have a big crowd behind us and as much as you want to focus to things on the field, it's nice to have a home crowd behind you."

Traditionally Canada has owned the United States on the pitch, with a 31-12-1 overall record against them.

Their loss last week was the first in over five years to the Americans.

Prior to that, Canada had a four-game winning streak against the United States. The last time they played a World Cup qualifier prior to the contest in South Carolina, Canada won 56-7.

"It's a huge rivalry," Riordan said. "We play each other every year and we know each other so well there is a real battle there. Playing each other for that World Cup qualifier adds pressure to the contest."

The Americans have qualified for four of the previous five World Cups. In France they lost all four of their group matches.

"We are a few points ahead coming into Edmonton, but I think we'd be very foolish to hang our hats on that," said U.S. head coach Eddie O'Sullivan.

"We have to go out and play (tomorrow) like it was a 0-0 game to start and then we'll see what happens. That's something that we've been talking about all week.

"I was happy with our performance last week, but we'll be trying to improve on it this week."


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