USA and Portugal set up playoff for final Rugby World Cup place

The USA set up a winner-takes-all meeting with Portugal next week, the prize a place in the Rugby World Cup in France next year, by beating Hong Kong 49-7 in Dubai on Saturday. In the other game of the day, the Portuguese hammered Kenya 85-0.

The Eagles, who last week beat Kenya 68-14, and Os Lobos, who beat Hong Kong 42-14, have both taken bonus points in beating lower-ranked opponents. The Portuguese are slightly ahead on points differential and tries scored (19 to 17).

The US have only failed to qualify for one World Cup, in South Africa in 1995. Portugal have reached the finals once, in France in 2007.

The winner of Friday’s game will take the last open place at the finals next year, in Pool C with Australia, Wales, Fiji and Georgia.

In Dubai on Saturday, a US team mostly drawn from Major League Rugby but with a sprinkling of players employed by top clubs in the English and French leagues led 28-0 at the break. Tries came from the Old Glory DC No8 Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz, the hooker Kapeli Pifileti, of Saracens, the San Diego Legion winger Nate Augspurger and the NOLA Gold second row Cam Dolan.

The full-back Mitch Wilson, from the New England Free Jacks, got the first try after the break. Augspurger scored a second before Tesimoni Tonga’uiha, from NOLA and on as a back-row replacement, scored the final try. Matthew Worley scored a try for Hong Kong.

Portugal strolled past Kenya, scoring 13 tries while the Simbas had the lock forward Brian Juma sent off for a second yellow card in the first half. That result will ensure the Eagles, who were shocked at home by Chile in their previous qualifier, will not take anything for granted ahead of what has become a sudden-death playoff, kicking off at 10.30am US ET next Friday 18 November.

Gary Gold, the US head coach who was formerly with London Irish and Newcastle and on the South Africa coaching team, is now working with experienced assistants including the former Argentina hooker and coach Mario Ledesma and the former All Blacks assistant John Plumtree.

After the game, Gold said: “We’ve got our work cut out for us next weekend, that’s for sure. Next week I would definitely like to see us follow through on our chances.

“We’re creating so many opportunities but we’re just not finishing them off. Whether it’s deciding to keep the ball in hand or being more clinical at the lineout, we’ll need to take more advantage of our opportunities next week.”

The US captain, the Bristol fly-half AJ MacGinty, said: “Even though the sun was down it was sweaty and sticky out there … in these conditions, it was difficult to play, so our mindset was putting the pressure on, to keep the ball in their half. We managed to do that a lot.

“We want to get better, and I don’t know how many things you want to tweak in a short turnaround, but it’s about stepping up again. The intensity of the game is going to increase [against Portugal], so you have to rise to that.”