Up and Under is a weekly feature on Americas Rugby News which reviews the best and worst from games involving the Americas teams over the previous week.
The Houston Strikers announced the hiring of former US Eagles Assistant Coach Justin Fitzpatrick as their Head Coach for the 2018 Major League Rugby season. Currently Director of Rugby at Seattle Saracens, Fitzpatrick will head south after four years in charge. The former London Irish, Castres, and Ulster prop won 26 caps for Ireland over a five-year span starting in 1998 and was part of the 1999 World Cup squad. He previously coached the Seattle Saracens who will join Houston in the new professional rugby competition in the United States in 2018.
Nathan Hirayama is now Canada’s all-time leading scorer on the HSBC Sevens Series. The 29-year-old playmaker stepped past former teammate Phil Mack with his conversion of Luke McCloskey’s try against Kenya in Canada’s first match of the day. One more conversion and match-winning drop goal saw Hirayama finish with seven points in the game and 980 in his career. On Saturday he then became Canada’s first player to score 1,000 points. Hong Kong was also Hirayama’s 50th tournament on the HSBC circuit. In doing so he becomes the third Canadian to achieve the mark, following Mack and current teammate and record holder John Moonlight, now his in 55th tournament.
Perry Baker, Justin Douglas, Madison Hughes, Ben Pinkelman
With a return of nine tries USA flyer Perry Baker topped the list in Hong Kong this weekend. Baker was also one of the top players in World Rugby’s Performance Tracker Series. He sits in fourth spot on 236 points, one below that of Canada’s Justin Douglas. The ratings are based on cumulative performances in all of this season’s 7’s tournaments. Standing out in Hong Kong from the Americas was Madison Hughes. The Eagles captain scored 47 points, the fourth most of all players. This included 28 tackles a number 12 more than the next best from the seven best Personal Tracker players. Baker also made the Dream Team as did teammate Ben Pinkelman.
Felipe Brangier, Julio Blanc
Chilean 7’s players Felipe Brangier and Julio Blanc were named in the Hong Kong Qualifier Dream Team. Both players looked sharp in Hong Kong as did others. Overall Chile surpassed expectations and showed the potential which can be unlocked through investment. Los Cóndores 7’s opened with a 38-0 win over Sri Lanka. It was followed by a 26-14 win over Namibia and a 31-0 hammering of Hong Kong. At the Quarter Finals stage the Chilean’s downed Uruguay 21-12. They finally came unstuck against Germany, losing 19-7 in the Semi Finals of the Qualifiers.
Americas Players in Europe
In Europe there were numerous standout performances this weekend. In the Guinness Pro 12 Canadian winger DTH van der Merwe ran in a hat-trick for the Scarlets against Treviso. In the Aviva Premiership Joe Taufete’e and Juan Pablo Socino scored tries while AJ MacGinty kicked 11 points. Across in France there were further scorers. Scoring for Racing 92 was Juan Imhoff. His side won a thriller 34-32 against Pau. Patricio Fernández and Benjamín Urdapilleta both kicked 9 points in losing efforts. In the Pro D2 Sebastián Poet landed 11 points with teammate Facundo Panceyra Garrido scoring a try.
Canada head honcho Mark Anscombe gave an honest assessment of the state of Canada’s men’s XVs program at the Annual General Meeting held in Toronto. In his 30-minute presentation he made a number of observations and identified several issues that are currently hampering performance at the international level. While conceding that some of his selections have not been ideal, his primary concern focused on the lack of game time and poor physical conditioning of the players available to him. He also cited the substandard quality of Canadian domestic club rugby, lack of a meaningful CRC competition, and absence of regional high performance coordination as major issues facing Canadian rugby moving forward.
Consistency. This word is frequently used to describe Los Pumas. Brilliant one week, average the next. Repeatedly an impressive win has been followed up by an underwhelming performance as Argentine lose. In failing to capitalize on opportunities Los Pumas are to play in a Pool of Death in Japan 2019. The players are to almost entirely come from Los Jaguares, a team also needing to work on consistency. On Saturday in Durban Los Jaguars fell 18-13 to the Sharks. Los Jaguares have many more Pumas than the Sharks do Springboks. The big story though was Los Jaguares poor handling errors and discipline.
Super Rugby Downsizing
It is now official Super Rugby is to cut three teams. In doing so it will revert to being the Super 15, albeit possibly not with that former name returning. Unlike the Super 15 the competitors are to come from five rather than three countries. This sees Australia and South Africa both losing out. One Australian and two South African sides are to be cut. Exactly which teams these will be remains unknown though the Australian side is likely to be the Western Force. In South Africa the Southern Kings and Cheetahs are the prime contenders to be axed. Los Jaguares will continue to play in the South African conference.
This weekend saw Bayonne relegated to the Pro D2. The Basque club suffered a 32-16 home defeat against Stade Français. The result keeps Bayonne rooted to bottom of the Top 14 on 26 competition points. With Bayonne dropping there will be player movement. This is not expected to affect any of the three Americas’ players at the club. Chilean prop Ramón Ayarza is contracted to Bayonne until June 2017 while second-rower Pablo Huete has one more year under contract with Bayonne. Former Puma Martín Bustos Moyano also has one more year on his current contract with the club.
Losing for there third game straight was Castres. Captained by Uruguay’s Rodrigo Capó Ortega the Tarn side fell at home against Lyon. The 17-16 defeat seriously dents the club’s hopes of a place in the play-off’s as well as the Champions Cup. So competitive is the Top 14 this season that all home fixtures must be wins. In addition to Capó Ortega both Horacio Agulla and Benjamin Urdapilleta started. The former Pumas were not at the top of their game. The opposite is true of Facundo Isa who had a barnstorming performance for Lyon.