Americas Rugby Championship: #USAvArg and #CanvURU Match Previews

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arc bannerRWU Friend Ray’s Rugby is back to finish his team previews of the ARC courtesy of his blog.

LANGFORD, BC – Welcome to the first of 3, Americas Rugby Championship Matchday Previews. The ARC is considered the premier  competition for player development for the non-first choice/foreign based players that play at the highest domestic level for the nations of Argentina, Canada, United States and Uruguay. Hence the slight name changes like USA Selects – and not Eagles. Now that we got that out the way, lets look at the tonight’s match-ups for matchday 1:

USA v Argentina (#USAvARG): A thrown together USA Select XV will take on an impressive Argentina Jaguars selection to kick off the 2014 Americas Rugby Championship. The southerners have never been beaten in this competition so it will be a tall order for their northern opponents, even more so given that five of the Argentine forwards were part of the senior squad that just finished an impressive Rugby Championship campaign against the strongest teams in the world. A brief run out against the Seattle Saracens earlier in the week is the only warmup the United States was afforded, and there’s a sneaking suspicion that it won’t nearly be enough.

Louis Stanfill in action against Georgia
Louis Stanfill in action against Georgia

Louis Stanfill leads the side with nearly a decade of service to the national program, and will be ably supported by Saracens triallist Phil Thiel. The two head up a relatively experienced pack at this level, with Matt Trouville the only newcomer, but there are real concerns about the scrum and their cohesiveness will be tested early. Olive Kilifi has been tasked with holding down the tighthead side and though he will significantly outweigh his opposite, his technique will most certainly be under scrutiny.

The strength of this American side is undoubtedly in the midfield, where Andrew Suniula and Chad London offer hard running options for Adam Siddall. Lemoto Filikitonga is the only debutant among the backs, but is another physically imposing attacker. With so much size there’s little question to what the game plan will be. Whether they can stay with the rapid fire phase play of the Argentinians is a different matter.

Aside from battle hardened hooker Matías Cortese, it’s a young Jaguars pack and not overloaded with muscle, but they will be fast, strong in contact, and accurate at the set piece. Second row Matías Alemanno has genuine international size and ability, and the back row led by captain Rodrigo Báez are all highly rated within Argentine circles. Both flankers featured heavily in the Pumas victory over the Wallabies in Mendoza.

Rugby Canada-Center of Excellence
Rugby Canada-Center of Excellence

A clear advantage for Argentina should be at the halfbacks, where Felipe Ezcurra and Patricio Fernández have future stars written all over them. They have come up together through the junior system and move the ball quickly. Brian Ormson is the polar opposite of Suniula in the midfield, a 2nd 5/8 style capable of kicking and passing effectively, and allowing Fernández the option of taking on the line himself, which he is very adept at doing.

The weather reports are calling for a mild afternoon in Langford, which should provide ideal conditions for running rugby. That most certainly favours the Jaguars, who will move the ball wide and attack systematically. The Americans will have to grind away and take their points on offer, but it won’t be enough against their classy opposites. Expect Argentina to put them under pressure early and often, and slide away to a 20-odd point victory come the final whistle.

Saturday, October 11, 14:30 PST, Langford


CanadaUruguay RugbyCanada v Uruguay (#CanvURU) : Tournament hosts Canada open their ARC account against Uruguay, with both sides short of their best and having to fill in with unusual selections. Los Teros, of course, have more pressing obligations in Montevideo against Russia with the winner being granted the final spot in next year’s World Cup in England. Given that the result will be known before the start of the match in Langford, it would be interesting to be in the position of Mario Risso, stand-in coach with this development side. The emotions of either victory or defeat could very well impact his team’s performance, and even a Uruguayan win could throw off their concentration.

Understandably it seems the URU’s communications department is entirely preoccupied to the extent that the team to face Canada has not yet been announced and unlikely to be so until kickoff. With only a threadbare side of 22 players available – not even a full bench compliment – until reinforcements arrive their options are limited.

Their traditional strength up front will be tempered somewhat with some very inexperienced forwards, particularly in the second row, but the front row will at least be competitive. Rodolfo de Mula and Francisco Jimenez are both entering their third ARC and will hold the scrum, though they could be under pressure with a much heavier Canadian pack lined up against them.

Halfbacks Guillermo Lijstenstein and Matias Arocena have been around the and will at least have captain Francisco Bulanti to help out, though the veteran utility back is well on the downside of career. Federico Favaro, Nicolas Freitas, and Rodrigo Silva each have spent time on the national 7s side. For Silva this is also his 3rd ARC.

Canada in action, 2013
Canada in action, 2013

Kieran Crowley has sprung a couple surprises in the Canadian side, most notably selecting Gordon McRorie at flyhalf instead of his preferred scrumhalf position. McRorie excelled at no10 in the second half of the CRC with the Wolf Pack so it’s not a left-field selection, and could be an indication that Patrick Parfrey is still short of full fitness. Derek Daypuck partners Nick Blevins in a strong looking midfield with skilled footballer Sean Ferguson moved to the wing from his usual fullback spot.

A big pack up front features Evan Olmstead on the blindside flank despite spending the entire CRC in the second row. PEI (Prince Edward Islands, in case your not Canadian) native Kyle Baillie lines up at lock beside Aaron Flagg, and Seb Pearson is given first crack at no8 ahead of Admir Cejvanovic. The bench has a 6-2 split, though Clay Panga’s versatility could see him in the backs once again if the need should arise.

This won’t be the greatest game of rugby, to be frank. Uruguay are very short handed, and on paper appear overwhelmed at nearly every position. The Canadian lineup isn’t too flash either, with only half the side realistically in contention for a World Cup spot, but there is enough skill and experience to get through this game at least. Expect a sloppy game with the home side getting through fairly easily by 20.

Saturday, October 11, 16:30 PST, Langford


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About Rays Rugby 24 Articles
I have played rugby since 1993, and began coaching and refereeing as well in 2005. I started writing in 1998, first published on the old Rugby Canada website followed by the National Rugby Post, Goff On Rugby, and I featured as a columnist for the new-defunct Canadian Rugby News before taking a long writing sabbatical while I pursued other interests. I have kept up my knowledge of the game, however, and have returned to comment and inform, only this time on all rugby matters, not just those Canadian. Thanks for reading!