LANGFORD, BC – The Americas Rugby Championship kicked off just as The Rugby Championship finished. Besides being an annual quadrangular tournament that has championship in its name, there is a world of difference between the ARC and the TRC. The ARC is a tournament for the non-first choice/foreign based players but playing at the highest domestic level, it includes players from Argentina, Canada, United States and Uruguay. Hence the slight name changes like USA Selects and not Eagles. Let’s review the teams and give your our thoughts. The teams are listed as they finished in the standings.
Argentina Yaguaritos – The Argies sent a squad full of promising members and graduates of their U-20 program. For experience they mixed in members of the Pampas team, their South African provincial competition side. What we learned was that individually they have a couple of guys that may make the Rugby World Cup 2015 squad but mainly 2019 is when they will be ready. The concern was their ability to learn to win against stern opposition as a unit. They did win but it came more in the form of 1 or 2 players individual brilliance rather than a team effort. If you look at it from the Men’s National team view, individual brilliance is ok because not every graduate of your youth program becomes a fully fledged international. They have separated the runners from the riders and know who can be a game-changer or vital cog for the future. The Jaguars team goal was holding onto their title and they did that on top of securing 2 bonus points. It is tough to not say mission accomplished.
United States of America Select XV– Simple math says 2 wins and 1 loss is better than 0 wins and 3 losses. However, in a developmental tournament, finding out about the ability of younger talent and fringe players as well as depth should count for something. After an 0-7 summer including 3 losses to Canada, USA Eagle head coach Mike Tolkin demanded full speed ahead. Much to the chagrin of USA fans, Fly-half Toby “L’sigh” L’Estrange started in all 3 games and even captained the final game. Fans had hoped a new Fly-half would be given the chance to put L’Estrange under pressure and see how he reacted. Instead, L’Estrange was given loads of game time and he performed well, which should help boost his confidence as well as the faith his coach is showing in him. Hopefully this leads to a strong November test series from L’Estrange, if not the pitchforks may come out because now there is no clear candidate for back-up 10 should something happen to the incumbent.
Other players that played well were front rowers Shawn Pittman, Titi Lamositele, Nick Wallace improved vastly and Phil Thiel look much more comfortable at hooker. At lock, despite coming to rugby late Tai Tuisamoa looks like he might be helpful in a pinch while John Cullen looks to need a bit more time. In the backrow, Cam Dolan should be in Europe within a year, he is that good. Danny Barrett also looks one for the future and Derek Asbun is coming along though not ready. However, where is Trevor Cassidy!?! This tournament was made for a kid like this. A player not yet 25, who had continued to make the 36 man training pool on previous occasions. This was meant to be his turn to show what he could do against international opposition. Instead he not given a chance to show his merit.
In the backs, Shaun Davies proved to be a breathe of fresh air at 9 with his running from the base and good passes, though he still needs more work on game management and consistency in finding his FH and runners. Davies back-up Chris Saint never got a chance to show what he can do. Adam Siddall didn’t get any major opportunities to cement any position but looked handy at 12 in the final game. Tim Maupin proved he has the ability to finish when on the wing. The USA is deep in wings but Maupin added himself to the list of legitimate candidates. The person whose play may cause Tolkin headaches and force his way into the line-up, is Joe Cowley. Cowley was solid at fullback and did well with the ball in hand. What Cowley did to get people’s attention was make his kicks. The US goal kicking has had its struggles and with the incredible importance on making kicks in the international arena, don’t be surprised to see Crowley on the wing come November.
As we said, glad for the improved record but not sure if too much development was sacrificed.
Canada A – Canadian rugby fans are upset with their performance and place in the standings. Head Coach Kieran Crowley made it known that this side was going to be strictly for development and that maybe only 2 or 3 players were expected to show they can make the jump to join the first choice side. Crowley’s statement should have tempered expectations but it didn’t.
Canada fans felt the team was made of players who were 1st teamers coming back from injury or getting some extra work in. Players like Ray Barkwell, Adam Kleeburger and Doug Woolridge were expected to lead from the front and inspire the troops but didn’t. There were several players like Sean White that had been given several opportunities to prove they could take the step up and be first team regulars, and came up short. This left young players forced into really tough situations and made it difficult to judge their progress. The players that performed well despite this were Jordon Wilson-Ross (who deserves to be in the November tours side). Young players like Djustice Sears-Duru, Conor Trainor, Jack Fitzpatrick and Giuseppe Du Toit acquitted themselves well all things considered.
However, Crowley will have to explain why certain players were played out of position. Why did they send 5 FH candidates to the 7s team and leave the cupboard so bare that Du Toit got the call, not to mention jetting in Pat Parfrey in the last game, which highlighted the situation? The team didn’t seem as well prepared as they normally do and finally the kicking tee fiasco is inexcusable at this level! Crowley and Canada are better than that and I hope to see the well structured and organized Canada we are use to seeing
Uruguay – Los Teros appear to have taken step back in order to take a leap forward. By playing a much younger team, and using the tournament to develop players instead of getting game-time for first-teamers, they found out that they are in good shape in the forwards. Their tight five scrummaged well and showed that they can hold their own, in lieu of the first-choice players. The backrow appeared to be undercooked slightly but it’s not far from being ready. Unfortunately, the backline is still a work in progress. This is absolutely normal and not that big of a deal.
In the trajectory of a nation’s rugby progress, backline ability will always be the last and final piece. Tier 2 nations often suffer with that ability as it is the one thing that cannot be coached into a player. The vision and attacking flair is something that the US and Canada are still trying to display on a regular basis. Georgia and Romania suffer from it too. It took Argentina a while before they were able to produce legitimate threats in the backline. This will not make them an easy out for the US come the Spring RWCQ matches. They will front up in the forwards and look for the backs to do just enough. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
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And until the next time… stay low and keep pumping those legs.