By Jon Newcombe
Domestic champions Ontario Blues form the bulk of Canada A’s squad for the IRB Americas Rugby Championship, which kicks off in Langford, British Columbia, on Friday.
The tournament features teams from the top Unions in North and South America and the 2012 edition will see the A teams of Canada, USA, Argentina and the Uruguay national team competing for the prestigious prize.
The Americas Rugby Championship will be contested in a round-robin format over three match days, featuring double-headers with matches at Westhills Stadium on 12, 16 and 20 October.
Oldest and Youngest
Out of a Canadian squad of 25, drawn entirely from home-based players competing in the Canadian Rugby Championship, 10 come from the Blues, who won the title with a four wins to one record.
Blues players also enhanced their selection chances while on a tour of South America this summer, a 27-16 victory over Canada’s opening ARC 2012 opponents Uruguay in Montevideo being a standout result.
Back row Tyler Ardron, an IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy graduate and once a leading light in Canada’s Under 20 team, is amongst the Blues contingent picked by national coach Kieran Crowley. Hooker Ray Barkwill, the oldest player in the tournament at 32 years of age, is also included.
Canada also possesses the youngest player in this year’s Championship in Pacific Tyee full back Pat Kay who, at 19, is one of only two teenagers present in the tournament.
As well as Kay, Pacific provide key half back duo Sean White and Connor Braid, whose parallel progress from the junior ranks through to the national team is living proof that the global player development pathway is in rude health.
Indeed, well over a third of the 102 registered players competing over the next fortnight have cut their teeth in the IRB Junior World Championship or Junior World Rugby Trophy.
Ormaechea brothers maintain family tradition
While only six of the Canada A squad have gained full caps for their country, all bar two of Uruguay’s 26-man squad has played at the highest level. Between them they boast nearly 150 caps. Second row Diego Magno, who made his debut in 2008, is their most capped player with 17 appearances.
Agustin and Juan Diego Ormaechea, sons of Uruguay’s legendary former number 8, captain and coach Diego, are two eye-catching names on a Los Teros roster that includes three JWC and nine JWRT graduates.
The Argentina squad is certainly not light in weight or JWC experience. In Hindu Club prop, Ramiro Carrera, the Jaguars contain some considerable beef up front. The 23-year-old is the heaviest player in the tournament, weighing in at 125kg. Indicative of the strength in depth of Argentine club rugby is the fact that a total of 19 different clubs are represented in the 26-man Jaguars squad.
Argentina – winners of the last Americas Rugby Championship in 2010 – have the honour of getting this year’s event underway when they take on USA Select.
Wasp with the Ox-factor
Other than the England-based hooker Derek Asbun, USA Select’s 26-man squad is made up entirely of domestic players, and contains an eclectic mix of individuals from students to a carpenter, a US Air Force serviceman and even an Earthquake Engineer.
Explaining his selection process, USA head coach Mike Tolkin said: "We picked the squad based on guys who were new to the Eagle squad or did not previously get as much playing time. The majority of these players showed well at the All-American camp, in club rugby and at other camps."
Having played Sevens for English Premiership side Wasps in the summer, Oxford University graduate Asbun is clearly one to watch. The 24-year-old, who wrote his thesis on the British Empire, is currently playing with Rosslyn Park in English rugby’s third tier but is looking to expand his own horizons on the international stage.
"The ARC is exactly the kind of tournament I want to be a part of: quality international competition and a chance to represent the US make it a great opportunity to get better as a player," he said.