While the Americas Rugby Championship represents another wonderful player development opportunity for the top nations in North and South America, winning will be uppermost in the minds of everyone involved in Tuesday’s ‘derby day’ double-header.
South American bragging rights will be at stake in the first game of the day, when Argentina Jaguars take on Uruguay at Westhills Stadium, kick off 5.30 PST before Canada A play USA Select in the 'Battle of the North' two hours later.
The Jaguars’ bid for a hat-trick of ARC titles got off to a flying start with a 39-3 win over the USA Select in their opening match, whereas Uruguay fell to a 28-10 defeat at the hands of Canada A.
A new-look Jaguars team will take to the field to face their rivals, with Coach Daniel Hourcade making 12 changes – 11 to personnel and one positional – to his starting line-up.
Only lock Matias Alemano and wings Matias Massera and Facundo Barrea stay in their original positions, while Benjamin Macome, who played number 8 against the USA, switches to openside flanker. Macome takes over the captain’s armband from scrum-half Tomas Cubelli, who is rested following a superb display in the tournament’s curtain-raiser.
Following on from the South American contest the North takes centre stage, with Canada A looking to make it two wins out of two against their cross-border rivals, the USA.
Head coach Kieran Crowley has resisted the temptation of sticking to a winning formula, introducing five new forwards to the starting pack.
Prop Creag Johnston, hooker Ray Barkwill, lock Aaron Flagg and flanker Alistair Clark are all promoted from the bench, while flanker Toni Wodzicki of The Rock is set to feature for the first time in the tournament. Captain Tyler Ardron retains the number 8 jersey.
In the backs, Connor Braid and Liam Underwood switch positions and play at full-back and fly-half, respectively. The only other change sees Ontario Blues player Jordan Wilson-Ross being named on the right-wing in place of Josh Hart who drops to the bench.
USA Select head coach Mike Tolkin is set to change a third of his starting 15 for the eagerly anticipated clash, as he looks for a more clinical performance from his side.
“The first half against Argentina was pretty even in terms of territory and possession but we weren’t putting points on the board,” he said.
“We missed three kicks, which would have helped gain us a foothold in the match, and in the final five minutes of the half we gave away what we would consider to be two soft tries. Instead of being 9-6 up, or at least even, we were 20 points to nothing down."
“In the second half we stayed with them the whole way but we just didn’t make the adjustments needed to break down the Argentina defence.”
A number of encouraging individual performances, notably from front-row duo, Nick Wallace and Derek Asbun, flanker and captain Cam Dolan and strong-running centre Jack Tracy, meant it was not all doom-and-gloom in the USA camp following the opening day defeat against what was a tough opponent.
Tolkin added: “Argentina Jaguars are a very experienced team that has played in the Vodacom Cup whereas our guys are pretty young and green. But they are coming together well and responding to a great experience.”
USA Select joint forwards coach, Luke Gross, his country’s second most-capped player of all-time, reckons the physicality of the Jaguars match will also stand them in good stead for what is likely to be another full-on, bruising encounter against Canada A.
“I think the boys had a glimpse of what to expect at this level, and that’s the whole idea of this (the Americas Rugby Championship): to give opportunities to younger players and help them develop,” he said.
“They have seen what an international match is like – the pace and the physicality, and I think they have figured out that it is the little things that make a big difference at this level.”
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