PREVIEW: Canada v Uruguay
AMERICAS RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP: Canada will be aiming to extend their proud record of World Cup appearances on Saturday as the 2018 Americas Rugby Championship kicks off with a ticket to next year's tournament in Japan up for grabs.
The opening fixture of the six-nation pan-American tournament doubles as the first leg of a regional qualifier for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, with the Canadians facing Uruguay in Vancouver on Saturday.
Uruguay will then host Canada on February 3 in the return leg in Montevideo to determine which team will enter Pool D next year alongside Australia, Wales, Georgia and Fiji.
Canada have played in every World Cup since the inaugural event in 1987, but have seen their fortunes at the tournament decline since reaching the quarter-finals in 1991 where they exited to New Zealand.
The Canadians were relegated to the playoff against Uruguay last year after being beaten 52-16 by the United States, who are already assured of their place in Japan.
The loss was the biggest ever suffered by Canada against their neighbouring arch-rivals.
Canada coach Kingsley Jones said his team had benefited from a recent training camp in London but warned of the physical threat posed by Uruguay.
"Uruguay is a strong team and well-drilled unit, they play as one unified team," Jones said. "They have won a lot of games recently and we know they're going to be ready for the challenge of this two-game series.
"We know we have to match them physically and, more importantly, play as a team. We have some quality on the field but they will only be able to show their class if we play as a team,"
Uruguay, meanwhile, will be attempting to reach the World Cup for the fourth time after appearances at the 1999, 2003 and 2015 tournaments.
The South Americans' hopes of qualification have been given a boost by the return to the national team set-up of veteran forward Rodrigo Capo Ortega, the 37-year-old forward who plays in France for Castres.
Ortega stunned Uruguay shortly before the 2015 tournament when he abruptly announced his retirement from the national team.
However he recently reversed his decision and is determined to help the Uruguayans nail down a World Cup spot.
Uruguay coach Esteban Meneses prepared his team with a warm-up game in Houston last weekend, where they defeated US club side the Sabercats 32-24.
"Our discipline was very good and that will be crucial when we play Canada," Meneses said. "This is a game of 160 minutes that starts in Vancouver and finishes in Montevideo so we are very focused.
"We have our best players available, including Rodrigo Capo Ortega, whose experience will be crucial for the forwards."
After this weekend's opening fixture, Chile face Brazil in Santiago on February 3 before the United States take on an Argentina XV in Los Angeles on the same day.