The 2017 Americas Rugby Championship has come and gone. It was a tremendous success for the sport overall. There were upset results with some performing above expectations. There were also low points with areas requiring the attention of both teams and administrators for 2018.
In looking to replicate the Six Nations the ARC has succeeded. Although the tournaments are vastly different in geographical terms the structural set-up is identical. All teams play against each other with the winner being determined by competition points. In both 2016 and 2017 the three World Cup regulars were pushed by the opposition, two of them losing in the process. There is still work to be done but the foundations are in place for a bright future.
The time to start talk about relegation is set to begin. For the time being the ARC is a six nation tournament. This is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future but something better is instead expected. Agustín Pichot has made no secret of the plans for a second division. The established Rugby Americas North and Sudamérica Rugby task for 2017 now should be to seeing this through. Paraguay, Colombia, Trinidad & Tobago, Mexico, Guyana and the Cayman Islands are currently ranked 7th-12th in the Americas. A playoff between the next best, Venezuela and the Cayman Islands could also be plausible. Similarly the winner ought to face the bottom ARC side in a promotion-relegation encounter.
Eagles Never Say Die
The USA’s thrilling last-gasp draw against the Argentina XV gave them the title. With it the ARC has two different champions in as many seasons. The Eagles gave it their all to get the draw. Early on in the second half against the Argentina XV it did not look likely. The home side had won back the lead and the Eagles were two men down to yellow cards. To complete the comeback showed tremendous will to succeed. Earlier wins for the USA were all comprehensive. The Eagles are flying high.
As in 2016 Brazil claimed a big scalp, that of Canada. Having also defeated Chile in round one the Brazilians finish above Canada this year. A 4th place finish is very much mission accomplished for the Tupis. Leading the way was Moisés Duque. The inside center kicked Brazil to the win over the USA in 2016 and did so again against Canada in 2017. He finished with 43 points, joint-leader on the scoring charts.
The other man to share the scoring title, also with 43 points. In Cima, the USA have a player of huge potential. The 20-year-old made his debut for the USA in round one against Uruguay. His recognized potential from the u20s was converted into the senior side. Cima had strong performances both at flyhalf and fullback. His goal kicking is also superior to that which has been available to the USA for a very long time. Cima looks a certainty for Japan 2019 and beyond.
Los Teros also made it a double against the North Americans. In 2016 Uruguay defeated the USA in Montevideo. In 2017 it was a home win in Punta del Este over Canada. Having also defeated both Brazil and Chile the final placing of Los Teros was third. Uruguay performed strongly in four of the five matches. The loss against the Argentina XV was Uruguay’s only disappointing performance.
The Argentina XV had three home matches and spread them. All three were very well attended with no empty seats to be spotted. The UAR took the opportunity to help spread rugby around the country. Bahía Blanca hosted Uruguay, Ushuaia hosted Brazil, and Comodoro Rivadavia hosted the USA. All three are south of Buenos Aires. Los Pumas’ home matches are also spread but in Buenos Aires and the northern half of the country.
Canada’s geographical size and rugby’s amateur status in the country are tough obstacles to overcome. It is also difficult for them to call on their European stars for the entirety of the tournament, with many missing completely. Some of the players involved for Canada are notably behind the level of those who played for the country at Rugby World Cup 2015. Rugby Canada needs to address the problem of why so many players were simply substandard, with the lack of a proper domestic competition surely the biggest factor. Failing to develop the Canadian Rugby Championship is not going to help this but make it tougher. Professional rugby is needed in Canada either with a local competition or by joining another one.
Chile was the worst side in the competition. Los Cóndores were not up to the standard asked. Aside from their fixture against Brazil the Chileans were unable to compete. The poor showing against the Brazilians can be contributed to the rain but the other results are a result of a lack of facilities, preparation, and amateurism. Players can only try their best. The unions are responsible for ensuring they have the best possible facilities and preparation. Before the 2016 competition Head Coach Paul Healy walked out on Rugby Chile. In doing so he was criticized from Santiago but he has been proven to have been on the money. Chile have a solitary win from two years in the competition. This will only change with significantly improved investment. A High performance Center mirroring that of Montevideo is absolutely essential.
Argentina XV – Not Pumas
Saturday’s draw against the USA underlined why the team is not playing as Los Pumas. Had it been a sanctioned test match then Argentina would have fallen in the World Rugby rankings. For 2018 work is needed to get many more players released from Los Jaguares to play for the Argentina XV. With this done the team could legitimately play as Los Pumas. In Round 5 Gabriel Ascárate and Santiago Álvarez were involved. Rodrigo Báez, Emiliano Boffelli, Juan Cruz Guillemaín, Bautista Ezcurra, and Santiago Portillo could also have been with better planning. It’s time for Argentina to treat the tournament with the same respect the other teams have committed to by attributing full test status.
This is 2017 but the matches did not involve TMOs. Consequently incorrect calls were made. There were instances of tries given as officials missed a knock-on. There were also instances of foul play which were not addressed. The match officials had no help during the ugly fracas in Maldonado while other cards might not have been given at all with the benefit of a second viewing. If club matches in Texas can have a TMO, surely it is not too much to ask of international rugby.
The World Rugby 7s dates disrupted several sides in the tournament. Players either had limited or no involvement in the ARC due to dates of the Wellington, Sydney, and Las Vegas events. A sampling of players missing in action includes Bautista Delguy, Fernando Luna, Nicolás Herreros, Felipe Brangier, Danny Barrett, Andrew Durutalo, and Madison Hughes. Canada might well have called on one or two players to bolster their side as well given their problems. It may simply be the case that this clash is unavoidable, in which case teams will have to decide which competition takes priority.