ARC a stepping stone to Test arena
By Frankie Deges
From Córdoba, Argentina
Both winners in the opening round of the Americas Rugby Championship, the Argentina Jaguars and USA Select XV will meet on Sunday from 19:00 local time while Canada Selects play Tonga A in the curtain-raiser two hours earlier.
The Jaguars were solid in beating Canada Selects 49-14 on Tuesday, after the USA Select XV had downed Tonga A 20-15 in central Argentina.
As the four teams are now focused on the second game, players are somewhat more relaxed with one round behind them and finding their feet in a new city and in a tour environment.
Very few of the those involved in this second edition of the ARC have experienced rugby at Test level and this tournament, as all others run by the International Rugby Board across its six Regions, aims to provide a positive competitive arena for players to develop as they prepare for full international status.
The high standard of the home side can be accredited to the High Performance plans that have been in place in Argentina for the last couple of years. Also, when looking at their squad, the number of players that have played for Argentina at age grade level is staggering.
Since the IRB changed its policy and replaced the Under 19 and Under 21 World Championships for the Under 20 Junior World Championship and Junior World Rugby Trophy, the synergy of players going onto to higher levels has gained momentum.
Twenty-two players in all at this Americas Rugby Championship have taken part in JWCs or JWRTs since they were first played in 2008 in Wales and Chile respectively. Argentina have always used their age grade rugby as an ideal development and they have eight players on their way to full graduation to Test rugby.
Despite five changes to the starting line-up, the match-day squad to face the USA Select XV features all eight of these players with a JWC background. Props Mauricio Guidone (2008) and hooker Luciano Proto (2009) join 2009 captain Santiago Guzmán – who has already played for the Pumas – in the forwards, while flanker Tomás de la Vega, promoted from this year’s successful tournament in the Litoral region, 400 kilometres east of Córdoba, will sit on the bench for the first time in the ARC.
Three players from the 2008 team in Wales will be in the backs in scrum half Martín Landajo, fly half Federico Nicolás Sánchez and centre Juan Pablo Estelles, while Joaquín Tuculet from the 2009 squad will be on the bench.
“We are developing the team post Rugby World Cup 2011,” admitted coach Daniel Hourcade, himself a former Under 21 national coach. “These Jaguars are showing they can play at this level and the pathway has clearly included age grade IRB tournaments.
“These tournaments are very helpful to ensure the players get exposed to higher standard of preparation and rugby.”
RWC 2011 dream
Playing against the Jaguars will be a USA Select XV that has made 10 changes to its starting line-up in a effort to give every squad member at least one start.
Zach Test, a veteran of three IRB age grade tournaments – the Under 19 World Championship in Ireland in 2007, Junior World Championship in Wales in 2008 and Junior World Rugby Trophy in 2009, recognises the importance of these opportunities.
“I have grown a lot from only being a speedster to a more rounded player today,” Test said. “Playing in the ARC is another step up and I hadn’t been as nervous as before the game against Tonga in a long time which shows how hard this tournament is.”
He had Gareth Jones and Duncan Helm (as team-mates at JWC 2008) alongside him, while fly half cum full back Tai Enosa was in the 2009 team which lost the final of the Junior World Rugby Trophy to Romania in Kenya.
“My dream is to play in Rugby World Cup 2011 and this ARC is very important in my development,” admitted Test.
Tonga A brought five players with Under 20 history to Córdoba, one of whom will lead the side when they play Canada Selects on Sunday. Captain and centre Charles Mateo played at JWC 2008, together with Mahe Fangupo and Paula Kato (not involved against the Canadians), while replacement hooker Pataleone Vi (2009 and 2010) and Michael Toloke (a wing in the opening game) were involved in Argentina earlier this year.
Their opponents also have five players from their Under 20 teams, three of which were involved in the Junior World Rugby Trophy squad that finished sixth in Russia back in May.
Twenty-year-old Brett Beukeboom will get his first start for the Canada Selects in the second row, while fly half Connor Braid, a team-mate in both 2009 and 2010 will also run out. On the bench will be Jamie MacKenzie (2008), while Sean Ferguson (2010) and Sean White (2008) will not be stripping on match-day.
“We’ve gone for size as we expect the Tongans to be very physical,” said Kieran Crowley, the Selects and national team coach.
This American Rugby Championship represents a stepping stone for all these players aspiring to play in the Test arena for their respective countries.
“It is very pleasing to see the high number of players who have come through the IRB Junior World Championship and Junior World Rugby Trophy on to the senior international stage,” said Mark Egan, the IRB Head of Performance and Development.
“The IRB is committed to investing in the development of a fully integrated player pathway for our targeted High Performance Unions and our investment in both Regional and international Age Grade Tournaments is a very important part of our overall competition strategy.”
The list of players involved in the Americas Rugby Championship to have played in either IRB Junior World Championship or Junior World Rugby Trophy is:
Mauricio Guidone (JWC 2008)
Luciano Proto (JWC 2009)
Santiago Guzmán (JWC 2008/2009)
Martin Landajo (JWC 2008)
Tomás de la Vega (JWC 2009 / 2010)
Juan Pablo Estelles (JWC 2008)
Federico Nicolás Sánchez (JWC 2008)
Joaquin Tuculet (JWC 2009)
Jamie MacKenzie (JWC 2008)
Sean White (JWC 2008)
Brett Beukeboom (JWC 2009 / JWRT 2010)
Connor Braid (JWC 2009 / JWRT 2010)
Sean Ferguson (JWRT 2010)
Charles Mateo (JWC 2008)
Mahe Fangupo (JWC 2008)
Paula Kata (JWC 2008)
Pataleone Vi (JWC 2009/10)
Michael Toloke (JWC 2010)
USA Select XV
Tai Enosa (JWRT 2009)
Gareth Jones (JWC 2008)
Zach Test (JWC 2008 / JWRT 2009)
Duncan Kelm (JWC 2008)