If the men’s Eagles defeat Portugal in the championship game of the Rugby World Cup 2023 Final Qualification Tournament on Friday, USA captain MacGinty might play in a third tournament.

AJ MacGinty, the captain, has had a reasonably easy week thanks to the USA team’s united will to defeat Portugal in the decisive game of the Rugby World Cup 2023 Final Qualification Tournament on Friday.

The men’s Eagles have earned back-to-back bonus-point victories against Kenya and Hong Kong, boosting the team’s morale after gruelling training camps in Colorado and South Africa.

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MacGinty and his teammates who are stationed in Europe were unable to attend those sessions, but Gary Gold gradually reinserted them into the starting lineup for the Final Qualification Tournament.

Fly-half for Bristol Bears After playing as a substitute in the opening 68-14 victory over the Simbas, MacGinty was back in the number 10 jersey for the 49-7 loss over Hong Kong.

His participation in the Dubai event marks his first since the Eagles’ heartbreaking aggregate loss to Chile in the Americas 2 play-off in July. As the USA attempts to win a spot in the RWC 2023 at its third attempt, he has noticed a change in attitude and intensity.

“The mindset has changed. I don’t think I’ve actually had to do much as captain,” MacGinty said.

“Going into the week, the whole focus was just on how we approach the training sessions. Again, it was a hot day yesterday but the numbers we got through, that’s all we’re going after. Just that effort amongst the squad from both sides.

“And yesterday was quite a good day, too, because obviously the teams announced and some lads aren’t in it, but it didn’t detract from the training session despite some guys being disappointed not to be playing.

“So, it’s more that the morale is good, the mood, the spirit in the camp is really good and everyone’s raring to go and I guess for me it’s like they’re all big games and it’s just another game, you know what I mean?

“It’s [trying to find] the balance between that, not getting too focused on how big a game it is. It’s just a game of rugby and we’ll want to perform at our best.”

Hard work paying off

On Wednesday, USA coach Gold said he felt the same way about the Portugal game as he did about helping South Africa get ready for successful campaigns with the British and Irish Lions, Tri-Nations, and the Rugby World Cup.

Similar conviction is evident in MacGinty’s efforts to lead the Eagles to a ninth Rugby World Cup.

“The intensity that we’re training at, at the moment, is no comparison to how we probably were in the lead up to those games against Uruguay and Chile,” he said.

“So, that fills me with a lot of confidence and the prep for me has been the best we’ve had.

“That’s probably the biggest one and the intensity that we’ll be able to play at then, I think that’s off the back of training post-Chile as individuals and work in camp and the amount of work lads did on their own.

“Into the camp in Glendale and then South Africa, by the sound of things it was like a Navy SEALs camp and torture for the lads, they worked their socks off.

“An awful lot of work has gone into our ability to perform at a higher level. That’s off the back of the coaches demanding that and the players rising to it, so that gives me a lot of confidence.”

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Laying the foundations  

If the United States defeats Portugal on Friday at The Sevens Stadium, they will earn a spot in the RWC 2023 as the 20th and last team, sharing a pool with Wales, Australia, Fiji, and Georgia.

It would provide MacGinty the chance to compete in his third Rugby World Cup, but it would be his first as the team’s captain.

MacGinty is not allowing himself to look too far ahead, though, in keeping with the team’s commitment to hard work.

The fly-half would not be content with just making it to the RWC 2023. He is motivated to change that statistic in France the following year after all seven of his tournament appearances to this point have ended in defeat.

“Having gone to the two, it’s like I’ve been to a World Cup and I haven’t won a game,” MacGinty added.

“That was a driving factor before, so it’s like be more competitive and [use] the lessons we’ve learnt along this campaign and how mad it’s been through the COVID season and all of that.

“But to get to this point where we’re at now, and where we can go [because] the foundations of it are really, really strong.

“The camp that I feel Gary and the coaches have produced has made every single person involved a better player, and that’s what you want.

“So, yeah, we’ll get this ticked off and then you think about going to the World Cup and captaining the side.”

Portugal to play USA for place at Rugby World Cup 2023

Os Lobos and the men’s Eagles kept their perfect records going in the Dubai Final Qualification Tournament.

After both sides won two straight games at The Sevens Stadium, the Rugby World Cup 2023 Final Qualification Tournament will be decided between Portugal and the USA.

Os Lobos defeated Kenya easily 85-0 to start matchday two, and on Saturday in Dubai, the men’s Eagles defeated Hong Kong 49-7.

As a result, Portugal currently leads the standings on points differential, but whomever prevails in the matchup between the two teams on Friday will earn the 20th and final available spot at the RWC 2023, as well as a spot in Pool C.

The only thing on the line when Hong Kong and Kenya square off at The Sevens Stadium the following week is third place; both teams needed victories on Saturday to have any chance of making it to the championship game in France the following year.

Portugal too good for Kenya

Portugal completely dominated their match against Kenya, scoring 13 tries to win 85-0 in the opening game at The Sevens Stadium.

Os Lobos broke through the Kenyan defence in just a minute when number eight Thibault de Freitas benefited from a forceful driving lineout.

After Portugal hooker Mike Tadjer scored at the end of another set-piece drive in the seventh minute, scrum-half Samuel Marques repeated the action.

In the 14th minute, Brian Tanga believed he had put Kenya on the scoreboard, but his attempt was disallowed due to an earlier knock-on.

Manuel Cardoso Pinto’s third touchdown was almost immediately conceded by the Simbas, and José Lima’s score in the 22nd minute gave Portugal a try-scoring bonus point.

Os Lobos got a fifth try before halftime when winger Vincent Pinto benefited from a clever lineout move with Kenyan second-row Brian Juma in the sin-bin. Marques continued his perfect track record off the tee to make the halftime score 35-0.

The task facing Kenya was already challenging because they needed to win to keep themselves in the running for a spot at the RWC 2023, but it only took a minute for Juma to receive a second yellow card and be dismissed.

Tadjer, Vincent Pinto, captain Tomás Appleton (twice), and Jose Andrade all crossed the goal line as Portugal scored five tries in the following 20 minutes. With a quarter of the game left, Os Lobos had a 66-0 lead thanks to two conversions by Marques and one from Jéronimo Portela.

A penalty try, tries by Joo Belo and Lionel Campergue, and their 13th and final score came when Kenya was down to 13 players after Geofrey Okwach was sin-binned for a risky tackle allowed Os Lobos to cross the finish line three more times.

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