Given the almost disturbing ease with which Argentina breezed past the field we might have just named a team full of their players. Besides being colorless, such a stance would have denied several players who performed well despite the inevitable team struggles which accompany an ad hoc tournament.
It would also have been disingenuous. While Argentina were unquestionably the superior team in the competition, their scrum was nothing to be lauded and individually there were relatively few forwards who are genuine Pumas contenders at the time being.
The majority of the side is appropriately from the best team but only a little more than half. Another five come from the runners-up USA while Tonga and Uruguay are each represented. Samoa’s best players were out wide where there was stiff competition while Canada were unreservedly disappointing, though two of their players achieved honorable mention.
1 – Matías Benítez (Uruguay ‘A’) On the whole there was not a strong group of loosehead props in the competition. Chance Wenglewski looks promising for the USA but still has much to learn in the scrum and was often used at tighthead. We’ve opted for the most consistent performer and best scrummager of the group. Benítez is not a star but has proved a capable backup to Teros incumbent Mateo Sanguinetti.
2 – Peter Malcolm (USA Select XV) Argentinean duo Gaspar Baldunciel and Axel Zapata are very different but highly effective ball carriers. Tongan skipper Sione Lolohea might have made a stronger case had he not missed the final game with injury. His USA counterpart was excellent throughout showing positive leadership qualities and his usual high work rate in the loose. Malcolm may still find himself a reserve for the Eagles but he’s going to make selections awfully difficult.
3 – Mario Sagario (Uruguay ‘A’) Unlucky is Canada’s hugely promising Cole Keith, a 20-year-old who enjoys nothing more than grinding opposition into the dirt come scrum time. He is still an infant in terms of experience compared to Sagario, however, and it should come as no surprise that the class tighthead of the competition is a grizzled 67-cap veteran. Sagario crushed the Tongans and even when his team were being throttled by Argentina the scrum was always moving forward.
4 – Vainanuma Manu (Tonga ‘A’) The most consistent and technically sound operator in the Tongan pack. Strongly built but athletic and light on his feet at the lineout. A constant source of possession whose professional experience in Romania was apparent. Argentina’s Franco Molina was outstanding in his limited time on the field while spring-heeled Samoan Ikifusi Matamu also played well.
5 – Ben Landry (USA Select XV) Didn’t actually play in the second row but let’s face it, he’s a lock through-and-through. No player displayed the raw power and physicality that he has in the contact area. After a year’s hiatus from the sport Landry is starting to find his feet again and the fact that he still has plenty of room to grow in terms of his rugby knowledge is a scary thought for opposition. His classification as an import is likely the only thing holding him back from a European contract.
6 – Hanco Germishuys (USA Select XV) Impressive in all three matches with his only blemish an unfortunate red card that was dismissed upon video review. Deceivingly fast with good balance that makes him difficult to tackle even in numbers, he invariably makes it over the gainline with ball in hand. The question now is where is his best position? Capable of playing across the back row, the hooker experiment at the very least appears to be out the window.
7 – Lautaro Bavaro (Argentina XV) An understated captain who avoids the limelight and leads by example. He’s not an explosive athlete nor a big bruiser. Bavaro is the type of player who puts his head down and does the dirty work, but does so with a high level of skill as well. A dependable lineout target, fearless defender, and a player who very rarely makes a mistake. Plays with the maturity of a 50-cap veteran in a 23-year-old body.
8 – Rodrigo Bruni (Argentina XV) His teammate Santiago Portillo spent the season training with the Jaguares but it was the San Luis man who stole the show in Montevideo. For those who have watched him it comes as no surprise. Bruni lacks the height of Portillo but he is a fearsome ball carrier with surprising acceleration and a piston-like fend. The closest thing Argentina has in terms of a like-for-like replacement for Facundo Isa.
9 – Gonzalo Bertranou (Argentina XV) After years of battling against each other Pumas incumbents Martín Landajo and Tomás Cubelli finally have legitimate competition. Bertranou has added muscle to his once-wiry frame and is unafraid to take on the fringe defense, and his distribution is quick and reliable. He himself is under pressure from another who will be mentioned further down. Canada’s Andrew Ferguson was arguably the best of a sub-par side while Melani Matavao has earned himself a spot on the Manu Samoa tour despite starting only one game.
10 – Juan Cruz González (Argentina XV) The obvious choice in a pre-tournament XV defended his reputation with two clinical performances that earned him the title of the tournament’s leading scorer. A wonderful player who combines sublime skills with vision, speed, and footwork. Sadly the senior selectors seem unwilling to look past his lack of size. A move to Europe might well be on the cards, or perhaps a permanent move to the HSBC Sevens Series. His main competition came from within the squad in the form of Nicolás Cantarutti, a young player who looks likely to move up the ranks rapidly.
11 – Josh Whippy (USA Select XV) Unquestionably the find of the tournament for the USA, with Cantarutti his only equal elsewhere. Played with confidence and freedom that could not have been expected from a player making his international debut. Ventured off his wing with devastating effect to create numerous line breaks. Glides across the pitch with such ease that it’s difficult to figure out what his top speed actually is. Whippy has surely done enough to earn a spot on the Eagles tour in November. Samoa’s La’aloi Leilua showed his class though his discipline could use a little refinement.
12 – Bryce Campbell (USA Select XV) Seems to be comfortable at either midfield position, it’s at inside center where his future looks to be. Has beefed up and now sports the physique of a professional. A punishing tackler head-on and soft hands that belie his bruising exterior. Narrowly earns selection ahead of a similar player in Argentina’s Juan Cappiello. Tongan powerhouse Paki Afu was in devastating form against Canada but didn’t have the same impact against Samoa.
13 – Santiago Álvarez (Argentina XV) A class performer who is in the process of shifting from Olympic Sevens mode to the XV-a-side game. Has the physical dimensions and defensive qualities to challenge for a Jaguares spot. Perhaps not as quick on the outside break but a steady and intelligent operator with strong leadership attributes. Joaquín Prada made a welcome return in Uruguayan colors and isn’t far off being back to his best.
14 – Sebastián Cancelliere (Argentina XV) Started the first game at scrumhalf and performed brilliantly, then played wing in the final two matches without batting an eyelid. Absolute class at either position. The leading try scorer in the competition, he knows exactly where to be and has the pace to get there. As good as he is on the wing, scrumhalf might just be his best position. Only a fool would deny him the opportunity to test himself on a bigger stage next year. Samoa were blessed with two excellent wingers in the competition. Elisapeta Alofipo was every bit as impressive as Leilua if not more so and wholly deserving of selection were it not for Cancelliere’s exploits.
15 – Bautista Delguy (Argentina XV) As good a player as Joaquín Tuculet is, this youngster takes attacking play to another level. He simply cannot be stopped in a one-on-one situation. Delguy has pace to burn and steps effortlessly off either foot. He has the vision to spot gaps and punishes any kick that fails to find the touchline. Like Cancelliere, the only question now is when he takes the next step. Tonga had their own whippet at the back in Sione Ika, typically a scrumhalf whose style and versatility are strikingly similar to Canadian stalwart Phil Mack.