We welcome back RWU friend Ray’s Rugby. These team previews are courtesy of his blog.
VANCOUVER, BC – The Americas Rugby Championship kicks off this weekend. The ARC is a tournament for the non-first choice/foreign-based players who play at the highest domestic level for the nations of Argentina, Canada, United States and Uruguay. Hence, the slight team name changes – like USA Selects, not Eagles. We will review the teams, going with the two South American teams today and the two North American squads tomorrow.
Uruguay: It’s slim pickings for Uruguay in the opening weekend of the ARC as their first-choice select squad hosts Russia in the final World Cup qualifying match on Saturday. As a result, they’ve selected a largely inexperienced group, though five players from the senior squad will be parachuted in to bolster the side following the weekend. A handful of veterans will be on hand to oversee things for a tough opening fixture against Canada.
Like their Argentine cousins, Los Teros are famous for their prowess at the scrum, and once again it should prove an area of strength. Four of the five props were part of last year’s ARC squad, with only Argentina-based Lucas Scarnati uncapped at senior level. Loosehead Rodolfo de Mula was a surprise exclusion from the Russian match while massive tighthead Francisco Jiménez is hard to miss. Interestingly, only one hooker is selected in highly promising German Kessler, a member of last year’s contingent – and a star in the U20 side that impressed in Hong Kong this past April.
Stringbean lineout specialist Matías Beer is the senior second rower in the squad despite being two months shy of his 21st birthday. U20 pairing of Ignacio Dotti and Gonzalo Soto is set to fill in beside him. Fernando Bascou adds some experience to a similarly lightweight back row that includes tackle enthusiast Agustin Alonso and this year’s U20 captain Manuel Castro.
Veteran goal kicker Matías Arocena has been recalled to help out diminutive Guillermo Lijstenstein at the halfbacks. Similarly, 34-year-old utility back Francisco Bulanti will be asked to take charge out wide, where only 7s winger Francisco Favaro has any real top level experience. The midfield looks especially thin, with only a single solitary cap between three youngsters – though versatile Rodrigo Silva could find himself there instead of his preferred fly-half position.
Thankfully, help is on the way in time to face Argentina mid-week. Back rowers Juan de Freitas and Diego Magno, scrumhalf Alejo Durán and outside backs Leandro Leivas and Gastón Mieres will all ride in with the cavalry. That is, of course, dependent on them surviving what is sure to be a fiercely contested match in Montevideo. For de Freitas and Magno being forced to front up against the big Russian forwards will be a particularly tough ask.
Stand-in coach Mario Risso, who normally leads the women’s side, will likely be targeting the final game against the Americans to try and steal a win. Los Teros finished last a year ago but in 2012 defeated the Eagles Select XV to take third. With so much inexperience ,it’s hard to see them achieving that this year. Look for their set piece to be competitive but aside from that they will struggle to put points on the board. Still, if the likes of Kessler and Dotti rise to the challenge and emerge as future test contenders, the tournament can be seen as a success.
Argentina: Argentina have sent a powerful squad with five members of The Rugby Championship roster present, including three who took part in the win against Australia. While many remain uncapped at the senior level, they are nearly all recent graduates of the national U20 program, and by and large represent the best prospects in Argentinean rugby. Of last year’s victorious side 11 return, bolstered by fringe Pumas hoping to edge their way into World Cup contention under the watchful eye of coaches Bernardo Urdaneta and Pablo Gómez Cora.
Former Northampton and Gloucester hooker Matías Cortese has revived his career after some years in the wilderness, starting both tests against Ireland in June and now playing second fiddle to Pumas captain Agustín Creevy. Expect him to be a prominent figure, if not as captain than certainly as pack leader. Beside him Lucas Noguera Paz and Matías Diaz, the latter fresh off a Super Rugby season with the Highlanders, will look to cement their place in the senior squad for the November internationals.
Big second row Matías Alemanno took his chance bypassing the Gold Coast and looks to have hurtled veteran Manuel Carizza in the pecking order. He will pack down on the tighthead side and should prove one of the dominant set piece operators in the tournament. Lanky Juan Cruz Guillemain has arrived from Paris to try and impress the selectors, and will have competition from youngster Guido Petti – not the biggest lock around – but very mobile.
Flankers Rodrigo Báez and Javier Ortega Desio stood out in Saturday’s famous victory, both asked to fill in for more illustrious names and coming through in spades. Highly rated Facundo Isa is another loose forward worth watching having spent time as a medical joker with Heinken Cup champions Toulon last season. There isn’t really a powerhouse ball runner among them but all are versatile with good linking skills.
Two players with big futures ahead of them are halfbacks Felipe Ezcurra and Patricio Fernández. Both are two-time participants in the Junior World Cup, with Ezcurra captaining in 2013 and Fernández in 2014. England might come a few months too soon for the pair, but a lot can happen between now and then. This represents the next step in their rapid rise to international stardom.
Not to be overlooked is Brian Ormson, another two-time u20 star and captain of the 2011 side. Comfortable at fly-half or inside centre, he’s likely to feature in the midfield along with Juan Ignacio Brex, a powerful runner who impressed in last year’s tournament. Facundo Barrea and Dan Isaack are proven finishers out wide, while classy footballer Román Miralles has been in the national program for the best part of a decade.
On the whole it’s a stronger squad than last year’s version, which doesn’t bode well for everyone else. Most of the side will have played together at some point, and as a group they have been training off and on for a few weeks now. There doesn’t appear to be an obvious weakness in the side outside of a lack of senior experience. With the class present, that shouldn’t be an issue. Los Jaguares have yet to lose in the ARC and probably won’t this year. Expect them to sweep all before them, and maybe set some points records along the way.
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