By Frankie Degas in Langford, Victoria
Defending champions Argentina Jaguars are top of the table after the opening round of the IRB Americas Rugby Championship following a bonus-point, four try win against USA Select. Meanwhile, a try from Mike Scholz, seconds from time, ensured Canada A also got off to a winning start with a hard-fought 17-10 victory over Uruguay.
Four tries – two in each half – paved the way for a 27-9 triumph for the Jaguars, who began their bid for a fourth Americas Rugby Championship title in impressive style.
The young Jaguars outfit dominated the first half, producing some good attacking rugby and remaining solid in defence on the few occasions USA Select threatened their line.
After an early penalty, the Jaguars scored an unconverted try through flanker Martín Chiappesoni after a great counter attack from full back and captain, Joaquín Tuculet. Seven minutes later, a 50-metre run from Tuculet led to wing Matías Orlando going over to make the score 13-0.
It took 30 minutes for USA Select to get on the scoreboard, a penalty from full back Adam Siddall opening their account.
Back from the half-time break, it took just one minute for the Jaguars to extend their lead, when centre Javier Rojas touched down under the posts.
USA Select then enjoyed their best passage of play, but a lack of composure in the Jaguars’ 22 prevented them from fully taking advantage of second row Guido Petti’s sin-binning.
Two more penalties from Siddall was all they could muster, and, with five minutes to go, they were made to pay when the Jaguars struck again through wing Facundo Barrea to claim maximum points.
“Our opening half hour was very good; we took 100 per cent of our own ball and were dangerous with the ball in hand,” said Jaguars coach Daniel Hourcade, a veteran of four Championships. “We had a young team on the field and we were expecting mistakes, but we are happy with the first win. We kept USA Select try-less and took the bonus point.”
USA Select captain Cameron Dolan was happy with his team’s performance despite the loss. “We played well but some simple mistakes cost us dearly. We could have scored a couple of tries but our execution let us down.”
The number 8 added: “We closed the gap with regards to last year (Jaguars won the corresponding fixture 39-3 in 2012) and that is because of the good work going on to produce and promote players.”
Scholz snatches victory
The main draw of the night saw an evenly contested match between Canada A and Uruguay, which ended in a 17-10 win for the host nation.
The Canadians took the field to a raucous welcome from the local support at Westhills Stadium, the home of their Rugby Centre of Excellence.
Defences were on top in the first half an hour as the match remained scoreless. An Adam McQueen penalty finally broke the deadlock, before a piece of individual skill by fly half Jack Fitzpatrick produced the first try of the match. Benefiting from quick ball, Fitzpatrick gathered in his own chip kick ahead, after the bounce had evaded Uruguay scrum half Alejo Durán, to run in unopposed and score under the posts. McQueen added the extras to put Canada A 10-0 up.
Uruguay reduced the deficit by three points after Joaquin Prada kicked a penalty shortly before the interval.
After the break, Uruguay came out flying, scoring an early second-half try from Pablo Bueno following great work from number 8 Diego Magno. Prada’s conversion tied the scores at 10-10.
As the tension mounted, Prada missed two penalties – the first a straightforward chance, the second from the halfway line – that would have shifted the balance of the tie in Los Teros’ favour.
Canada A had struggled to find a way through the South Americans’ strong defence, until, after more than 10 phases and with the clock approaching the 80-minute mark, centre Scholz squeezed his way over the line.
Despite taking a losing bonus point from the match, Magno was unhappy with the end result. “We are upset because we could have won and didn’t. Allowing them a try in the final seconds was hard to swallow,” he said.
“We failed to use the scrum as the platform we wanted but our lineout was stronger. Overall, though, when you consider we had four debutants we were much better than last year (a 28-10 defeat).”
Canadian flanker Adam Kleeberger acknowledged the immense Uruguayan effort. “They did not make it easy; challenging every breakdown and making our life difficult. It was clear from today that the standard of rugby is growing and that has to be very good,” he said.
The second round of matches, to be played on Tuesday, at 18:00 and 20:00 local time, features two derby matches: the all-South American clash between Argentina Jaguars and Uruguay, while Canada A and USA Select will battle it out for North American bragging rights.