By Frankie Deges, in Langford, BC
The IRB Americas Rugby Championship 2013 will be streamed live on www.irb.com
An IRB Americas Rugby Championship that promises to be better and more popular than ever before gets underway in Langford, Victoria on Friday with the first of three rounds of double-header action taking place at the recently improved Westhills Stadium.
Designed to develop domestic-based players in the Americas into the next tier of international players, the round-robin style tournament features representative teams from the host nation Canada, USA, Uruguay and defending champions Argentina.
The four squads contain a mix of players already capped by their country and up-and-coming stars, a blend perfectly demonstrated by three-time winners Argentina Jaguars with the inclusion of prop Matías Díaz, flanker Benjamin Macome, and full back and captain Joaquín Tuculet, fresh from their recent involvement in The Rugby Championship, alongside IRB Junior World Championship combatants, teenage fly half Patricio Fernández and second row Guido Petti.
The Jaguars’ title defence begins against USA Select, who have added some seniority to their squad in a bid to improve on last year’s disappointing showing when they lost all three matches.
“I’m looking forward to continuing to build and nurture our player pool through this year’s ARC,” USA national team head coach Mike Tolkin said. “We have a more balanced squad this year with a moderate number of players with international experience as well as many younger prospects that are looking to make strides within the national team set-up for the first time.
“The ARC is an important process for us in that players will continue to get a High Performance experience as well as play in highly competitive international matches, which will test what they are capable of doing under increased pressure.”
Shawn Pittman, Phil Thiel, Nick Wallace and Toby L’Estrange are among the fully-capped Eagles who were a part of USA’s busy schedule in May and June, which included their first-ever involvement in the IRB Pacific Nations Cup, a visit from Ireland and the two Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifiers against Canada.
Testing players of the future
In the second match of the opening day Canada A play Uruguay, who are coached by former scrum half Emiliano Caffera, a veteran of Los Teros’ Rugby World Cup 2003 campaign.
Explaining the make-up of his squad at the tournament launch dinner at Government House, Caffera said: “We already know who our first choice Test players are but now we need to find the group of players that can complement them.
“Throughout the year we have worked together at our High Performance Centre and this tournament will give us the chance to see how some of our younger players perform at a higher standard. We have a Test against Spain in November and then Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifiers next year so we must ensure we see all our players in action.”
With the number of spectator seats almost double that for last year’s tournament hosts Canada A should enjoy an even larger home following at Westhills Stadium, the home of Rugby Canada’s Centre of Excellence.
Ontario Blues centre Mike Scholz believes the support of ‘the 16th man’ will prove hugely beneficial. “We train every day in Langford and the opportunity to play in front of our home fans is huge for us. Westhills Stadium is an unique facility where the fans are basically on the field and the support we receive helps us compete," he said.
Scholz is one of seven members of the Canada Rugby Championship-winning Ontario side to be included in national coach Kieran Crowley’s 30-man squad, which is captained by prop Andrew Tiedemann.
ARC 2013 fixtures
Round 1 - October 11
18:00 (local time) - USA Select v Argentina Jaguars
20:00 (local time) – Canada A v Uruguay
Round 2 - October 15
18:00 (local time) – Argentina Jaguars v Uruguay
20:00 (local time) – USA Select v Canada A
Round 3 - October 19
15:00 (local time) – Uruguay v USA Select
17:00 (local time) – Argentina Jaguars v Canada A