Americas Rugby Championship set for kick-off
By Frankie Deges
From Córdoba, Argentina
Frankie Deges looks ahead to the eagerly anticipated Americas Rugby Championship, which kicks off later today.
Argentina will host its second international tournament within four months when the Americas Rugby Championship kicks off in the city of Córdoba on Tuesday. The Argentine Jaguars will defend a trophy they won in its inaugural year in Toronto, Canada in 2009 against Canada Select, USA Select XV and Tonga A.
Most of the players involved in this round robin championship are based in their countries of origin, making it a wonderful opportunity for young talent to be exposed to a higher level of rugby.
Córdoba, located some 700 kilometres to the west of Argentine capital Buenos Aires, is one of the oldest cities in South America and a hotbed of rugby talent.
“The IRB is delighted to return to Argentina on the heels of a highly successful IRB Junior World Championship in the Litoral Region. The people of Córdoba have embraced the opportunity to host this important championship,” said Tom Jones, who is Regional General Manager for the NACRA region and in Córdoba as Tournament Director.
“It is part of our Strategic Initiatives Programme, in which high performance (HP) cross-border competition is a key element. Ultimately, the goal of this tournament is to prepare the players in HP Unions to be able to perform at a Rugby World Cup. To do this, they must experience the rigours of playing out of their comfort zone and against strong competition from and in other countries.
“These four teams represent the best of domestic players in each of their countries and many of them will travel to New Zealand in one year for Rugby World Cup 2011.”
Jones also pointed to a bright and far-reaching future for the Americas Rugby Championship, and explained Tonga’s inclusion in the short term.
“The long-term view is for the ARC to be a strong North-South event for current and future HP Unions in CONSUR (South America) and NACRA (North America and Caribbean). In 2010, the IRB is seeking to ensure a playing schedule for all HP teams, so we see the addition of Tonga.
“Uruguay is still playing in the RWC qualifiers and a balance must be struck between their fixture list and that of Romania, whom they will meet in the final RWC qualifying round. Meanwhile, Tonga requires matches in its build up to New Zealand.”
All four teams raring to go
Hosts Argentina Jaguars have left no stone unturned in preparing for this championship. Mauricio Reggiardo, a test veteran of 51 caps at prop, co-coaches with former Portugal assistant coach Daniel Hourcade and was at the inaugural ARC together with seven players in Córdoba.
“The tournament is definitely growing,” confirmed Reggiardo. “Teams fully acknowledge its importance. We had three warm-up games and our team is very well prepared. Our goal is to give these players more match action, allowing our high performance plan to continue to evaluate them.”
Argentina will play Canada Select at 7pm (local), a team Reggiardo knows well.
“We’ve seen some of their recent Churchill Cup games and they are a solid team. We are here to win the ARC again, but we want to do it by playing good rugby.”
The Canada coaches selected their travelling squad from the four-team Canadian Rugby Championship and have been working hard to be ready for the opening match.
Their coach is the highly respected former All Black Kieran Crowley, who is experiencing the Rugby World Cup cycle as a head coach for the first time.
"We have a team with a blend of youth and experience. There are some World Cup places up for grabs and this tournament is important in that sense,” he said. “It will also allow us to start seeing players with potential to play in RWC 2015.
“This tournament is ideal to help us bridge the gap between domestic and full international rugby,” the former All Black added.
The tournament, to be played at the Cancha Auxiliar Estadio Córdoba, will kick off at 5pm (local) when USA Select XV tackle Tonga A.
The Tongans are a welcome addition to the tournament and arrive battle-hardened following their 32-30 win against the Cóndores of Chile in Santiago last week.
“We are delighted to be here in Argentina and playing in this tournament. We know we’ll be playing against three hard teams,” said the captain Matini Tupou, whose squad includes two graduates from the Junior World Championship in June, one of which, hooker Pataleone Vi, will play in the opening round.
The Tongan national team is ranked 16 in the world, one place behind the US Eagles, so this clash between the two countries’ ‘A’ sides will provide an intriguing insight into their relative strength in depth.
“Prior to coming to Argentina, we had some hard games and we are ready” said USA Select XV captain Nicholas Johnson.
“While acknowledging that there is a lot of work to do, we are getting better and I believe we will be competitive and should have a good tournament.”
The opening round of matches is to be followed by the Cross Border final between home province Córdoba (winner of the East Cross Border tournament) and Tucumán (winner of the West tournament). Both tournaments are sponsored by the IRB.