Argentina Jaguars were crowned the inaugural Americas Rugby Championship winners after a comfortable 35-11 defeat of British Columbia's Bears in the final at Fletcher's Field in Markham on Saturday.
The defeat was the Canadian provincial side's first loss in the new Championship after they had gone through the round robin stage with three other provincial sides unbeaten and then overcome Ontario Blues in the semi finals.
Nathan Hirayama had scored all of the Bears' points in their 12-8 semi final win over the Ontario Blues and the Canadian international fly half did the same against the Jaguars with a try and two penalties in the defeat.
With Argentine sides renowned for their forward strength, it was perhaps surprising that the Bears elected to take them on up front rather than work around this advantage and for the first half the tactic appeared to work.
Building for the future
The Jaguars had scored first through Joaquin Tuculet, but Hirayama then took the Bears out to an 11-7 lead. However that would be the last time the Bears troubled the scoreboard with Benjamin Macome crossing to put his side ahead at half time.
With the majority of the second half played in the Bears' half, the Jaguars crossed for three more tries through Agustin Creevy, Martin Bustos Moyano and Esteban Bustillo with Benjamin Urdapilleta converting all five tries to seal a dominant win.
"The ARC tournament is so promising for rugby in North America," said Bears coach Mike James afterwards. "For us Argentina is a model of excellence. Whenever we play a side from Argentina it is a good reality check for rugby in Canada and a great example of where we need to and can get to as a country."
This was a sentiment echoed by Mark Egan, the IRB's Head of Development and Performance who was at Fletcher's Fields to witness the conclusion of the inaugural Americas Rugby Championship.
"I thought it was a fantastic event and definitely a level above NA4 competition that has been held in the past. I was impressed with the Canadian provinces, particularly the players' fitness. Obviously the Jaguars were worthy winners today. Hopefully this can be a tournament we build on in the future."
Blues hold nerve to finish third
Ontario Blues banished the disappointment of that narrow loss by holding off a valiant comeback from the USA Selects side to snatch a 27-24 victory at the death and finish on a high and claim third place overall.
Roared on by the home crowd, the Blues immediately found themselves with an advantage after Dallas Robinson was sin-binned for taking out a player in the air from the kick-off.
Mike Scholz weaved his way through the Selects' defence to open the scoring, but by the time Robinson returned the match was all square after captain Kevin Swiryn found a bit of space to touch down the American outfit's first try.
The Blues went in leading 18-10 at half time after two penalties from Steve Piatek and number 8 Mark MacSween's try, Nese Malifa kicking a late penalty to keep the USA Selects in touching distance.
When two more Piatek penalties stretched the Blues' advantage to 14 points with 15 minutes remaining, it seemed that the USA Selects would pay for missing several good scoring opportunities in the second half.
Fightback ends in vain
The visitors, though, refused to accept defeat and Swiryn spotted an opening to score his second try of the match under the posts to give Volney Rouse an easy conversion to cut the deficit to 24-17 with just seven minutes remaining.
The Blues made an error from the restart and the ball was turned over, Nic Johnson making the initial break up field. The ball eventually found its way out to Swiryn, who again crossed under the posts to complete his hat-trick.
Rouse's conversion tied the scores at 24-24, but there was to be one final twist as the Selects gave away a penalty within striking range and Piatek stepped up to slot his kick between the uprights with the final whistle sounding just seconds later.
"I think it says a lot about these guys' heart and mentality to be able to stay focused on the task at hand and come back like that in the last 10 minutes," said Swiryn. "It was a total team effort and there's no doubt that they didn't leave everything on the field."
Selects coach Paul Keeler added: "The game obviously could have gone either way. Unfortunately, we made too many mistakes early on that directly affected the score. Although it shouldn't have come down to those last minutes, our team was definitely playing better towards the end of the match and it was really nice to see them play for a full 80 minutes."
His counterpart Les Gilson added: "We had the definite advantage. We were able to play five matches before coming into this match and you could see that the US team was getting better and better as the game went on. The time we had together definitely helped our defence and I was proud of how we stuck together and got the job done at the end."
7 September - Atlantic (The Rock) 31-23 Prairies (Wolf Pack)
12 September - Ontario (Blues) 24-29 BC (Bears)
19 September - BC (Bears) 8-7 Atlantic (The Rock)
19 September - Prairies (Wolf Pack) 14-13 Ontario (Blues)
26 September - Prairies (Wolf Pack) 14-52 BC (Bears)
26 September - Atlantic (The Rock) 5-32 Ontario (Blues)
10 October - BC Bears 12-8 Ontario Blues
10 October - Argentina Jaguars 57-10 USA Selects
17 October - Ontario Blues 27-24 USA Selects
17 October - BC Bears 11-35 Argentina Jaguars