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.
Pool of Death
There is still two years of international competition to go but brace yourselves! The Pool of Death in Japan 2019 is going to be special. On late Friday evening Tonga earned their ticket for Rugby World Cup 2019, securing the final spot in Pool C. The USA qualified earlier this month, joining the trio of Argentina, England, and France. Tonga qualified by virtue of Fiji hammering Samoa in the final round of the Pacific Nations Cup. The pool looms as extremely difficult to predict, is that not what rugby supporters have cried out for during the pool stages of previous Rugby World Cups?
A third country from the Americas is guaranteed a place at Rugby World Cup 2019. That country is to either be Canada or Uruguay. The teams will meet home-and-away in early 2018 with the winner, on aggregate, qualifying as Americas 2. Uruguay is notably better placed than in prior campaigns. In the same fixtures in prior World Cups Los Teros have fallen to the USA. This time around captain Juan Manuel Gaminara has words of confidence, and with reason. Uruguay defeated Canada earlier this year and pushed the USA. Canada was recently cleanly beaten by the Eagles in San Diego. A failure to secure Americas 2 will not mean elimination. A place in the Repechage with a path to qualifying for Pool B, the easiest in 2019, will await the loser.
The Central American Republic of Nicaragua is preparing to stage the 2017 Juegos Centroamericanos. With rugby featuring preparation is underway to prepare referees. Led by Mario Henao (Colombia) a World Rugby backed course has been taking place. The aim of the gathering is to have officials fully prepared for the XI Central American Games which will take place in December. It is the first time that a training course of this magnitude has taken place in Central America. The Federación Nicaragüense de Rugby (Nicaragua Rugby Federation) has successfully organized the event. Participating are two referees from Guatemala, two from El Salvador, two from Honduras, two from Nicaragua, one from Costa Rica and two from Panama. Among them six are women.
Chile, France Referee Connection
Joël Dumé is currently working with Chilean referees. The French National Director of refereeing is looking to help the development of officials in the country. Chile has notably been absent from having referees in the Americas Rugby Championship. An accomplished official himself, Dumé has refereed over 20 test matches. This includes nine matches in the Six Nations Championship and matches from the former Tri-Nations including Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. He also refereed matches in Rugby World Cups 1995, 1999, and 2003.
Germany vs USA, Brazil
Germany is to face two Americas teams in November 2017. The Central Europeans are to have three home internationals, two of which will be against countries from the Americas. On November 11, 18 and 25 Germany will play host to South Korea, the USA and Brazil. The November Internationals series follows on from Germany’s successful home series in 2016. The Germans defeated both Uruguay and Brazil at home, the latter being a 2-0 series win. From there Germany has gone on to defeat Belgium, Romania, and Kenya in 2017. Germany, Kenya, and South Korea are yet to play in a Rugby World Cup though all remain in the hunt for places in Japan 2019.
The BC Bears got their 2017 Canadian Rugby Championship campaign off to the best possible start with a savage display of attacking rugby to defeat the visiting Prairie Wolf Pack by 43-0 at Thunderbird Stadium on Friday evening. Calling the performance comprehensive did not do justice to the dominance displayed by the Bears in virtually every department, whether the scrum or open play. Such was the chasm between the two, the Pack could only muster a solitary shot at goal, turning down points on one occasion for an unsuccessful chance at a try from a lineout. On that evidence this could well be the year when they end a six-year drought having last lifted the MacTier Cup in 2009.
Los Jaguares finished their season in Australia on a high, downing the Melbourne Rebels on Friday. The 32-29 win was the second from as many matches in Australia from the Argentine side. The victory was a come-from-behind fight. The Rebels held a 19-10 half time advantage and would also lead until well into the second half. But enterprising play ultimately paid off. Santiago Cordero crossed for two tries while Gonzalo Bertranou and Guido Petti each scored one. The team finishes the season in a disappointing 10th position. The players, though, are better positioned a month out from the Rugby Championship than they were following the June Internationals.
Samoa will not face a team from the Americas in Rugby World Cup 2019. Should they qualify it will be in Pool A which will have games against Japan, Ireland, Scotland and Europe 1 (likely Romania). Many from Argentina and the USA were glad to see Tonga, not Samoa, qualify as Oceania 1 but Fiji’s effortless win over Samoa in Apia has the Samoan rugby community shaking their heads. They have hit a low that, arguably they have not experienced in the professional era. Samoa were 8th in the world this time during the previous World Cup cycle. Today they are 16th. Losing against Fiji exposed a longstanding Samoan issue – an over reliance on foreign players. 10 of the starting 15 players are from New Zealand. While Canada, Uruguay and the USA are ranked lower all have far better systems than does Samoa.
Old Boys Clubs
World Rugby Vice Chairman Agustín Pichot wants Japan in the Rugby Championship and Georgia in the Six Nations. Traditionalists who argued against Argentina joining the Rugby Championship must be pulling out their hair with rage. Pichot is pushing through changes for the good of the game. While some say he is just interested in helping his own country this is surely not a strong argument given the cases of Japan and Georgia. Both are Tier 2 unions of great potential. They have the means to successfully make the jump from a financial perspective. Questions remain as to the Pacific Islands being able to do the same thing. Notwithstanding having Fiji added as well as Japan is something entirely plausible. This is a vastly different time than that which he experienced as a player. Carry on Pichot.
In his first start of 2017, Tomás Cubelli was yellow carded. The Belgrano Athletic scrumhalf played for the Brumbies away to the Chiefs on Saturday. The Australian side fell to a 28-10 defeat in Hamilton, New Zealand. Cubelli was adjudged to have committed cynical play early in the second half. With Gonzalo Bertranou playing very well for Los Jaguares Cubelli is by no means ensured of walking straight back into Los Pumas for the Rugby Championship. Cubelli will have at least one more opportunity as the Brumbies face the Hurricanes in Canberra in a play-off match this coming Friday.
Los Jaguares are to have a different Head Coach. The 2018 campaign will not see Raúl Pérez in charge. The Rosario coach confirmed his departure following Friday’s match in Melbourne, Australia. For next season Diario Olé has declared that Mario Ledesma will be in charge. The UAR is to make an official announcement following the Rugby Championship in October. Of the Pérez administration Martín Gaitán will be retained. But both José Pellicena and Fernando Guatieri are to be replaced. The Diario Olé notes that Ledesma has named his Rugby World Cup 1999, 2003 and 2007 teammates Felipe Contepomi and Nacho Fernández Lobbe to be on his team. Gaitán, also of 2003, will join them. The entire coaching staff would be made up of not only former Pumas but men who had noteworthy professional careers abroad.
Played in San Isidro on Saturday, El Clásico was a dud. CASI fell to a 14-0 home defeat against SIC. Former fringe Pumas fly half, Benjamín Madero scored all of the game’s points. He scored one try in the first half and kicked three penalties in the second. CASI were badly outplayed in cold conditions and looked unsure of what they were doing. This was the case despite former World Rugby Juniort Player of the Year nominee, Ignacio Rodríguez Muedra playing fly half. Moreover, Argentina XV centers Santiago Álvarez Fourcade and Bruno Devoto both started outside Rodríguez Muedra.
Also struggling in Buenos Aires is Hindú. The club from Don Torcuato was embarrassed on Saturday, crashing to a 30-3 loss against CUBA. This was the case despite former French-based Hernán Senillosa and Santiago Fernández both playing. Hindú is now 7th in the competition. CUBA continue to lead. While Hindú is off the pace CASI is approaching the abyss. The San Isidro club is now bottom of the URBA Top 12.
Curitiba, São José
Powerhouse Brazilian clubs, Curitiba and São José are winless. After three rounds of the 2017 Super 8 season neither club has won a match. This past weekend both took to the field. São José competed to a 25-25 draw against São Paulo side, Poli. Playing away to Pasteur, São José fell to a 26-24 defeat. Both Curitiba and Sao José have 3 competition points. Leaders Jacareí have 14. Curitiba won the national title in 2014 and 2016. São José, meanwhile, dominated Brazilian rugby winning national titles in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015.
Prairie Wolf Pack
Missing star scrumhalf Gordon McRorie and with former coach Graeme Moffatt concentrating on his Canada role, the team struggled to find any footing in Vancouver. Even the return of inspirational leader Kyle Gilmour and the steadying influence of Clay Panga in the back row could not stem the tide of a rampant Bears attack. Despite the crushing defeat the Wolf Pack should not yet be written off. They may need a couple reinforcements before the tournament resumes in mid-August but there is enough class already present to restore some pride in their next outing.