PHILADELPHIA, PA – Mirroring the 6 Nations in Europe, the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC) kicks off this weekend. The tournament features sides from USA, Canada, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina. The long-term goal of this tournament is to increase the standard of play in the Americas and give the unions a reliable source of competition and, someday, revenue.
There used to be a different, but somewhat similar, tournament that was called the Americas Rugby Championship, but that was officially unofficial. None of the matches were tests.
Importantly, matches in the new ARC are tests. The timing of the tournament fits into World Rugby’s Northern Hemisphere release window, so the test status means that clubs can be “forced” to release players to their national sides. The test status also means that Canada and USA have a chance to defeat a Tier 1 nation (Argentina) in a test match. Further, these matches count as full caps, so young players who qualify for more than one nation are committing their futures by playing in one of these matches.
It has now been confirmed that all matches are tests, except for those involving the Argentina XV.
The reality, though, is that Argentina are sending a developmental side, Canada are not calling in their European professionals, and the USA will have limited availability for their European professionals. The Eagles did surprise, though, when they announced that most of the European professionals will be available at least for Argentina. It sure seems like USA Rugby is targeting that Tier 1 scalp, even if it comes with an asterisk.
Even with less-than full strength sides, there are positives to be seen now and real potential for the future of this tournament. In the first year, we know that there is going to be a stretch of 5 weeks in which players from 6 nations are in a full-time training environment. That seems a step toward professional rugby in the Americas.
6-7 February: Canada v Uruguay, Chile v Brazil, USA v Argentina
13-14 February: Argentina v Chile, Brazil v Uruguay, USA v Canada
20-21 February: Canada v Brazil, USA v Chile, Uruguay v Argentina
27-28 February: Argentina v Canada, Brazil v USA, Chile v Uruguay
5-6 March: Brazil v Argentina, Chile v Canada, Uruguay v USA
Here is a look at how our experts expect Round 1 will go.
Argentina are sending a squad full of good players, but not their best. They have sent a similar squad to the old version of the ARC and won. Argentina is proving that they know how to develop good players, and the ARC is part of that. Even with the USA professionals involved, Argentina is the favorite to win the tournament. Key Player: Ramiro Moyano. There is a good chance that Argentina will look to counter-attack quite a bit, and when they do, Moyano will be a danger man.
Canada are without their best players. Many of the players who were important to the World Cup performance are back with the 7s team and others are playing in Europe. Nathan Hiriyama, Phil Mack, DTH van der Merwe, and Ciaran Hearn are some of the players the Canadians will be hard-pressed to replace. Key Player: Gordon McRorie. Canada will need to play smart and score when chances arise. McRorie’s play will go a long way in determining how well Canada can execute their game plan.
The USA announced a large squad, with different players available for different matches. The side that travels to play Uruguay and Brazil will be quite different than the side that plays Argentina. For Argentina, they have most of their European professionals but will be missing Samu Manoa and Aj MacGinty. There are other players missing, but those two are the most important. The Eagles have struggled to find a 10; Aj MacGinty seems to be the 10. None of the players who were given a shot under previous coach Mike Tolkin are in this squad. Key Player: Niku Kruger. Kruger is one of the players available for all 5 matches and will be trying to lock down the #1 scrum half position.
In Uruguay’s squad of 24 announced to travel to Canada, 15 were involved in the World Cup. Only 4 are not capped. With this strong squad, and playing USA at home in the last weekend of the tournament, they have a good chance to get at least 3 wins. Key Player: Manuel Blengio. With Felipe Berchesi not involved, Uruguay will need a new leader at 10. If Blengio can spark the Uruguayan attack, they will be at least competitive in every match.
Chile is not that far behind Uruguay and actually beat them last spring. They should beat Brazil and have a real chance against Uruguay. 2 wins would be a clear success for Chile. Chile Key Player: Cristian Onetto. Currently listed as a fly half, Onetto has spent more time recently playing at 12 for Chile. With 60 caps, he is one of the more experienced players in the tournament.
If Brazil is competitive, that is another step in the right direction for a young program. Brazil Key Player: Luiz Vieira. With Oyannax in France, Vieira, 21, is a back row/lock forward who can help Brazil compete physically.
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