2022 Chile vs USA Eagles

USA Vs. Chile Preview: Eagles One Win Away From France WC

USA Vs. Chile Preview: Eagles One Win Away From France WC

The Eagles will return home with a spot in next year’s World Cup in their sights—and with the comfort of home fans by their side.

Jul 12, 2022 by Briar Napier
USA Vs. Chile Preview: Eagles One Win Away From France WC

One more match.

The United States men’s national rugby team is so close to another Rugby World Cup that it can almost taste it. After the Eagles’ win in the first qualifier against Chile, the hardest part is already over—getting through the away leg largely unscathed.

Now, the Eagles will return home with a spot in next year’s World Cup in their sights—and with the comfort of home fans by their side. The American rugby scene is growing fast, from the success of Major League Rugby to securing host status for the World Cup in 2031. Getting to France next year, in style, would play a key role in keeping that positive momentum going.

Here’s a look at what to expect as the U.S. takes on Chile in the second leg of their two-legged playoff for Rugby World Cup qualification with the test (scheduled for 3 p.m. ET Saturday) to be streamed live on FloRugby. 

Where Things Stand

Though it got ugly at times— a torrential downpour and a mud-clogged pitch at the Estadio Santa Laura didn’t help—the Eagles’ narrow 22-21 win in the away leg in Santiago was huge toward their World Cup qualification hopes. 

Put simply, a win or a draw this weekend at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colorado will suffice in getting the U.S. back to the top stage in international rugby. It would be their seventh straight qualification and ninth overall, but with the Americans being heavy favorites to get the job done, a bit of extra pizazz in the return leg would probably be appreciated by the home crowd. 

If the Eagles do indeed get the job done, they’ll punch their ticket to a brutal Pool D in France next fall against the 2019 World Cup runner-up (England), another two top-10-ranked in Argentina and Japan, and Samoa, who the U.S. is 2-5 all-time against. 

But if Chile shocks America on their own turf and sets in stone its first ever trip to the Rugby World Cup, that would mean the Eagles would be sent to the Final Qualification Tournament later this year where they must outlast a group of Portugal, Kenya and either Tonga or Hong Kong for a spot in Pool C, which features Australia, Wales, Fiji and Georgia. 

The goal is straightforward as it can get for coach Gary Gold’s Eagles: win and they’re in. 

United States

World ranking (as of 7/11): 17th

Rugby World Cup appearances: 1987, 1991, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019

The lowdown: Should the U.S. feel disappointed that it didn’t have a more dominating display in the first leg? Maybe, but considering the plenty of extraneous factors—horrid weather, stadium lights literally going out—it’s a net positive overall that the Eagles won’t have to play from behind in the friendly confines of suburban Denver. 

A mainstay at the Rugby World Cup, the U.S. is now 80 minutes away from making it back to the mountaintop once again—and it could clinch the feat in front of home supporters. One of the main differences between this team and the one that played three years ago in Japan, however, is that there are plenty of new faces that could make an impact in France. 

Wing Christian Dyer is a prime example. The 6-foot-2 24-year-old and Houston SaberCats star only debuted last summer, having already nailed down a place in the Eagles XV, scoring an early try in the first leg against Chile in the process. 

Overall, 16 members of the 34-man squad have less than 10 caps for the Eagles, two of which—Dyer and hooker Kapeli Pifeleti—crossed the try line in Santiago. Still, there’s plenty of veteran leadership in the mix like AJ MacGinty (America’s leading scorer at the past two World Cups) and back row Cam Dolan, who officially became the winningest U.S. international ever (30 test wins) after the Eagles beat Chile. 

Gold tactically balances the youth and veterans, and it could very well take the South African to his second World Cup on the Eagles touchline.

Chile

World ranking (as of 7/11): 24th

Rugby World Cup appearances: None

The lowdown: There’s no sugarcoating it: Chile needs a minor miracle to seal a spot at the World Cup at this time. Nonetheless, the underdog Los Condores have put up a valiant effort to get to this point and have already upset a World Cup mainstay once this qualification cycle, eliminating Canada this past October as the Canucks will miss out on the tournament for the first time in their history. 

Beating the U.S. in Colorado—where the Eagles have won both qualifiers played there—will be a tall order, however. The Chileans are full of quality players and can be dangerous, though, making it possible that the test will be competitive in spurts. A great example is fly-half Rodrigo Fernandez’s world-class 80-meter try against the Americans in Santiago, an unbelievable run that saw the 26-year-old juke and jive past an Eagles’ defense across a soggy pitch. 

A cohesive 32-man unit in which all but seven players apply their trade at club level for Chilean club Selknam, coach Pablo Lemoine’s men will be national heroes if they qualify for the World Cup in any fashion, regardless if it’s by way of beating the U.S. or winning the Final Qualification Tournament. 

Still, Chile is 1-5 all-time against the Eagles and holds a minus-212 point differential against the team, having struggled mightily in the past. Even if that trend holds up this weekend in the return leg, Chilean rugby’s day in the sun could come soon enough.