Ashley English and her USA teammates are no stranger to facing their Canadian counterparts, but this week's two-match Atlantic Cup series takes on extra significance in a year that culminates with Women's Rugby World Cup 2010.
The North America rivals met twice last year and are poised to come face to face with each other four times in their build up to the showpiece of the Women's Game, which kicks off in England on 20 August and for English is "anyone's for the taking".
In an ideal world they would love the opportunity to play different opposition on a regular basis but financial constraints dictate that possibility. However, playing the same opponents does have its benefits as well.
"Playing Canada is always a tough match, and we welcome the challenge and rivalry!" English told irb.com from the team's Florida base ahead of Tuesday and Saturday's internationals at the Tigertown Athletic Complex in Lakeland.
"Both teams are familiar with each other's players and tendencies, which means we must constantly evolve and improve our game plans to outsmart each other. It would be great to face some other sides before the World Cup, but that may not be possible due to finances."
English played at the last Women's Rugby World Cup in 2006 when USA finished fifth overall, one place below hosts Canada, but a number of key players chose to retire after that tournament and the new-look squad has taken time to develop.
Wins were hard to come by, until Kathy Flores' side travelled to Canada for the Nations Cup last August. On form, they would have been expected to finish fourth of the five teams, but instead were runners up to England following wins over Canada - their first since 2006 - and South Africa as well as a draw with France.
Hard work starts to pay off
Their Nations Cup displays showed that the Women's Eagles are on the right track, but full back English is adamant that there is still plenty to work on and no time to rest on their laurels.
"The upcoming year is tremendously important for the USA Women's national team," admitted English, who has faced Canada eight times since making her debut against them in 2001.
"We have been learning and improving so much as a team in the last few years. We had a lot of turnover after the 2006 World Cup, and the learning curve was very steep for the new players.
"Everything started to gel for us at the Nations Cup last summer, and I am confident that we will continue building on that progress in our next two series against Canada.
"Our victory over Canada at the Nations Cup was partly due to the improvements we made in our defence. We put Canada under a lot of pressure and forced a lot of turnovers.
"In addition, it was our third game of the tournament and we had had the chance to work out some kinks in our offence. Everything finally came together in the game, which culminated in a nail-biting last minute try for the 15-10 win!
"We are looking to build on what we learned at the Nations Cup and continue up our steep learning curve as a team. Through video analysis of the Nations Cup Canada game, we have targeted a few key offensive and defensive areas that we hope to improve.
A giant step forward
"Our goal is to play 80 minutes at the level we played at the Nations Cup, plus improvements in our target areas. If we succeed in those goals and play the kind of rugby the USA is capable of we will come away victorious.
"The USA team improves with each game we play. I expect a giant step forward with each test match between now and the World Cup. We will continue working on our physical defensive game as well as refining our offence."
With 221 days to go until the USA kick off their World Cup campaign against Asian qualifiers Kazakhstan at the Surrey Sports Park in Guildford, English is expecting to see a lot of improvement still from her team - a must if they are to have a chance of repeating their country's success in the 1991 event.
"The World Cup is unlike any other rugby tournament. It is always an honour to represent my country in a test match, but representing the USA at the World Cup brings a whole new level of intensity," concluded English, whose side will also face 2002 and 2006 runners up England as well as Ireland in Pool B.
"Players need to be ready to face tough, highly skilled opponents who want victory just as much as we do. In addition, being on tour for three weeks is a test of mental toughness, as the fatigue factor begins to take its toll.
"The World Cup is going to be an incredibly exciting tournament. All the top teams will be playing a lot of matches between now and August, improving at each venue.
"At this point, the Cup is anyone's for the taking."