The USA and Portugal have the inside running on qualification for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France after bonus-point wins in the first matches of the final qualifying tournament, in Dubai on Sunday.
Bryce Campbell takes on the Canada defence during a Rugby World Cup qualifier in Colorado in September 2021.
The US beat Kenya 68-14 and Portugal defeated Hong Kong 42-14 at the Sevens Stadium in the first round-robin games.
The Americans have missed only one World Cup, in 1995, and showed their intent to avoid a repeat of that low point with try hat-tricks for the New York hooker Dylan Fawsitt and winger Christian Dyer, who plays for Houston.
The Eagles, who started with an XV entirely drawn from Major League Rugby, the domestic league, and brought players employed in Europe on from the bench, scored 10 tries in all in their highest ever score outside of the Americas.
Named man of the match, Fawsitt told reporters of his tries from driving mauls, “When you’re on the back of that funbus makes it pretty easy. So this is for the boys for the forward pack.
“Kenya brought it to us at the start and frustrated us a little bit – it’s what we wanted to do to them and credit to them. But yeah, we came together and credit to the boys for how we reacted and got the result we wanted … It’s phenomenal just to be here right now and we’re taking every opportunity as it comes and really enjoying the feeling.”
Hong Kong scored first against Portugal, from a rolling maul. But Portugal quickly found gaps to post three converted tries in the half, to the lock Jose Madeira, wing Raffaele Storti and Miguel Morais.
Even with a man sin-binned, Portugal were unrelenting, with tries in the second half for Rodrigo Marta, Storti again and Jose Lima. Hong Kong’s Jack Neville barged across for a consolation try but Portugal moved a step closer to qualifying for their first Rugby World Cup since 2007.
The winner of the tournament will claim the 20th and last berth in the World Cup in France, in Pool C alongside Australia, Wales, Fiji and Georgia.
In the next round of games in Dubai, next Saturday, Portugal play Kenya and the US face Hong Kong. The game between Portugal and the US the following week looks set to be a winner-takes-all World Cup decider.