After five weeks of battle between some of the best and brightest talents in the Americas Rugby Championship, we’ve come to the moment of truth. Through snow and wind and rain, glory and ruin, madness and majesty. We’ve taken notes and studied the tapes. We restricted consideration to players who appeared in a minimum of two games, though everyone on our team played at least three.
The successful teams – de facto finalists Argentina XV and USA – from the bulk of the side but once again every country is represented at least once. This was not by design and no effort was made to accommodate, nor were players given precedence over another based on team success. In our eyes the players selected picked themselves. Of note is that no players from last year’s selection have made the cut this season. After surprisingly little debate it’s time to name our 2017 ARC Dream Team.
1 – Mateo Sanguinetti (Uruguay) A contender last year was this year a relatively comfortable choice as the best loosehead prop in the competition. Argentina’s rotation policy denied opportunities for others to challenge while the rest simply didn’t stack up in comparison. At just 24 years old Sanguinetti has already amassed 36 caps and attended one World Cup. He is a relative lightweight by modern front row standards but makes up for it with strong scrum technique and outstanding work rate in the loose. With his best years still ahead Sanguinetti could well finish as one of Uruguay’s all-time most capped players.
2 – Martín Espiga (Uruguay) With Carlos Arboleya opting to pursue an MBA at Duke University and Germán Kessler injured, Los Teros turned back the clock by calling Dr. Espiga back to the side after an absence of nearly six years. Orthopaedic specialist by day and front row surgeon by night, it didn’t take long for the 32-year-old to get his bearings again in test rugby. Espiga is another atypical front row in the physical sense, light on his feet but still a willing combatant. His accuracy in the set piece was critical for Los Pumas while his ability to read the game in the loose sets him apart from other contenders. Yan Rosetti presented a strong case with two Team of the Week selections, while the one-two punch of Eagles duo James Hilterbrand and Peter Malcolm also impressed.
3 – Chris Baumann (USA) The man with the mullet grunted and heaved his way into the team with his best run of games in an Eagles shirt. His time in New Zealand has honed his scrum technique and while he is perhaps not a great destroyer when the front rows collide, it is now a rare sight to see him take a backwards step. For a team that has struggled in the scrum in recent years that stability is priceless. Baumann is just as happy to run full steam into brick wall defense and that combination of set piece strength and open field impact has cemented his name in the run-on side for the June tests and beyond.
4 – Nate Brakeley (USA) What a way to make a statement. After being something of a bolter in the 2016 ARC and playing a supporting role in June and November, the New York resident has thrust himself into June contention with three outstanding efforts in the Eagles engine room. Alongside Nick Civetta, another standout, Brakeley provided unyielding support to his front row in the scrum and was outstanding in the lineout showing great ability to read opposition throws and get up quickly to disrupt. He looked comfortable linking with the backs out wide and was effective in the contact area. Having bulked up over the last 12 months Brakeley now looks very much an international lock.
5 – Ignacio Larrague (Argentina XV) The latest in a long line of giants to emerge from hearty Argentine beef stock, Larrague plays the classic enforcer role in the second row. Standing at 2.01m (6’7″) in height he was one of the biggest men in the competition and played like it. Agile enough to be a prime target in the lineout, it’s his impact in the collisions where he really stands out. Whether barreling over defenders with ball in hand or cleaning out rucks single-handedly, his opponents always knew where the 21-year-old San Isidro smasher was on the field.
6 – Anton Petrowitsch (Chile) Affectionately dubbed ‘The Pitbull’ by ESPN commentator Dan Power, Chile’s outstanding player in the competition was undoubtedly the fiery flanker from Santiago. The Craighouse Old Boys product showed off his wide range of skills and exceptional athleticism over the course of the tournament. Dominant in the lineout, aggressive in the tackle, and with the ability to attack as a strike runner or link man. His long arms allow him to offload from the tackle and also lock on to the ball at the breakdown in defense. Petrowitsch is a player who could easily step into a professional environment and have an immediate effect. We only hope Los Cóndores can still call upon their back row star when he is inevitably snapped up by a foreign club.
7 – Tony Lamborn (USA) In the conversation for player of the tournament is the ubiquitous Timaru export. Despite his torrid performances for Hawke’s Bay in the Mitre 10 Cup, his decision to play for the Eagles appears to have cost him a Super Rugby contract. John Mitchell certainly wasn’t complaining as one of his prize acquisitions ran rampant in the ARC, his four tries good enough for second best in the competition. Lamborn’s impact in virtually every category has been so pronounced that he now looks a certainty for the starting openside role in the June test series despite the plethora of talent available to the Eagles in the back row.
8 – Tomás de la Vega (Argentina XV) A rare spot of contention in our team, with Cam Dolan also strongly considered after impressing with the Eagles. It was de la Vega, however, who earned three weekly selections for his all-around play. After a couple years in self-imposed international exile, the 26-year-old reminded us of his class as he never came off second best in the contact area and wreaked havoc at the breakdown. His offensive output was more subtle, with his angular running and offloading game giving the Argentines guaranteed momentum from the back of the scrum. Admir Cejvanovic was Canada’s most improved player with his matches against Chile and the USA particularly noteworthy.
9 – Sebastián Cancelliere (Argentina XV) The revelation of the tournament. Eyebrows were raised when only one scrumhalf was named in the Argentine squad as Cancelliere is often employed as a winger, but he more than justified his position almost from the moment he first touched the ball. After surviving the frigid conditions of Langford he notched a hat-trick against Uruguay and would go on to lead the tournament with five tries. Cancelliere’s pace and attack-first attitude saw him invariably exploit gaps on the fringes, with his passing game also sharp. Santiago Arata turned heads for Uruguay with his sniping and is a worthy runner-up.
10 – Domingo Miotti (Argentina XV) Identified as a potential long-term successor for Pumas star Nicolás Sánchez, Miotti was given the keys to the car in the ARC and did not disappoint. Like Sánchez he is not shy to take on the line but in a more direct fashion, using his size and offloading ability rather than the slashing style of his senior. Miotti’s talents run the full gamut – passing, kicking, running, tackling – but it’s his composure and understanding of how to control field position and tempo that stood him apart from other contenders. His USA counterpart Will Magie showed similar qualities for the Eagles, while Ben Cima is clearly one for the future.
11 – Taylor Paris (Canada) Three games played, five tries scored. In terms of pure class he is among the top tier to step on the field in the ARC. It’s little surprise that he was Canada’s best player and his return to France left a gaping hole in the Canadian lineup. The effort that Paris puts in off the ball is an example to all wingers, be it chasing kicks or looking for work infield, or even directing traffic at the base of a ruck. His country will be leaning heavily on the left wing once again come June.
12 – Moisés Duque (Brazil) Forever known as the man who kicked the Tupis to victory over the Eagles, he can now add Canada to that list. The younger Duque brother is an underappreciated talent elsewhere, perhaps due to his size. Make no mistake he can mix it up with anyone. His tackling technique is regularly sends attackers reeling backwards and his tactical kicking gave Brazil options at both first and second receiver. On offense he is always around the ball and makes space for others with footwork and passing skill. A complete footballer who would look at home in any of the six teams at the tournament.
13 – Bryce Campbell (USA) The find of the tournament for the Eagles. Combines brute force with accurate passing skills that make him a difficult player to defend against. When he wasn’t busy punching holes he was like an extra loose forward at the breakdown, often first to the breakdown to ensure continuity. There is perhaps a question of whether his future is at inside rather than outside center where his defensive positioning was sometimes challenged, but there’s no doubt he has put himself in the frame for regular selection in the USA side after his impressive showering over the past five weeks.
14 – Nicolás Freitas (Uruguay) A close call with winning captain Nate Augspurger adapting to a new position superbly, though his long-term future surely remains at scrumhalf. Freitas spent his time prowling on the left wing but with Paris an obvious choice we opted to move the next best winger across to the right side. The new Jaguares signing showed great confidence against all opposition, attacking with verve and punishing slow support mercilessly at the breakdown. Some of his individual runs were among the highlights of the tournament. Whether in the midfield or out wide, Freitas will be one of the first names on the team sheet for Los Teros for some time to come.
15 – Bautista Delguy (Argentina XV) Entered the competition with as much hype as any and he certainly delivered. His brilliant counter-attacking earned him selection to the first two teams of the week and after scoring as a reserve against Chile he was sadly pulled away to HSBC Sevens Series duty. At just 19 years old he is as good an open field runner as we have seen from Argentina, with the ability to step off either foot without losing speed a lethal attribute. Mike Te’o has his moments for the USA while last year’s unanimous selection Daniel Sancery was sadly underutilized by Brazil until the final game against Canada.
1 Mateo Sanguinetti (Uruguay), 2 Yan Rosetti (Brazil), 3 Wilton Rebolo (Brazil), 4 Nate Brakeley (USA), 5 Pedro Ortega (Argentina XV), 6 Tomás de la Vega (Argentina XV), 7 Anton Petrowitsch (Chile), 8 Alejandro Nieto (Uruguay), 9 Sebastián Cancelliere (Argentina XV), 10 Domingo Miotti (Argentina XV), 11 Taylor Paris (Canada), 12 Moisés Duque (Brazil), 13 Bryce Campbell (USA), 14 Blaine Scully (USA), 15 Bautista Delguy (Argentina XV)
1 Djustice Sears-Duru (Canada), 2 James Hilterbrand (USA), 3 Santiago Medrano (Argentina XV), 4 Conor Keys (Canada), 5 Nick Civetta (USA), 6 Anton Petrowitsch (Chile), 7 Tony Lamborn (USA), 8 Admir Cejvanovic (Canada), 9 Sebastián Cancelliere (Argentina XV), 10 Domingo Miotti (Argentina XV), 11 Taylor Paris (Canada), 12 Juan de Freitas (Uruguay), 13 Santiago Álvarez (Argentina XV), 14 Dan Moor (Canada), 15 Bautista Delguy (Argentina XV)
1 Nicolás Solveyra (Argentina XV), 2 Martín Espiga (Uruguay), 3 Mario Sagario (Uruguay), 4 Nate Brakeley (USA), 5 Ignacio Larrague (Argentina XV), 6 Francisco Gorrissen (Argentina XV), 7 Juan Manuel Gaminara (Uruguay), 8 Admir Cejvanovic (Canada), 9 Santiago Arata (Uruguay), 10 Will Magie (USA), 11 Taylor Paris (Canada), 12 Moisés Duque (Brazil), 13 Bruno Devoto (Argentina XV), 14 Fernando Luna (Argentina XV), 15 Mike Te’o (USA)
1 Franco Brarda (Argentina XV), 2 Peter Malcolm (USA), 3 Chris Baumann (USA), 4 Matt Jensen (USA), 5 Ignacio Larrague (Argentina XV), 6 Tomás de la Vega (Argentina XV), 7 Tony Lamborn (USA), 8 Admir Cejvanovic (Canada), 9 Sebastián Cancelliere (Argentina XV), 10 Ben Cima (USA), 11 Nate Augspurger (USA), 12 Moisés Duque (Brazil), 13 Conor Trainor (Canada), 14 Germán Schulz (Argentina XV), 15 Emiliano Boffelli (Argentina XV)
1 Mateo Sanguinetti (Uruguay), 2 Yan Rosetti (Brazil), 3 Chris Baumann (USA), 4 Nikola Bursic (Chile), 5 David Tameilau (USA), 6 Rodolfo Garese (Uruguay), 7 Tony Lamborn (USA), 8 Tomás de la Vega (Argentina XV), 9 Gordon McRorie (Canada), 10 Germán Albanell (Uruguay), 11 Nicolás Freitas (Uruguay), 12 Moisés Duque (Brazil), 13 Bryce Campbell (USA), 14 Leandro Leivas (Uruguay), 15 Daniel Sancery (Brazil)