A new addition to our annual awards is the Emerging Nation Player of the Year. This category was created to acknowledge excellence from the best players from nations outside the Americas Rugby Championship. It hasn’t always been easy to find video at this level of competition but thankfully the ease of the internet has made it possible to watch games from the Americas North and Sudamérica competitions. Admittedly we only get to see a handful of games from any one side during a calendar year but that’s enough to pick out individuals who impressed.
Talent is rising through the ranks at the lower levels, as evidenced by Lyon’s signing of Colombian lock Andrés Zafra. The 21-year-old is one of a new generation stepping out of the shadows of amateur rugby to enter the world of professionalism. There are others such as Mexico’s outstanding Agustín Sánchez who look capable, with only injury denying the young flyhalf more chances to impress and possibly earn himself a contract.
One such player who looks on track to play rugby overseas in Wilkinson Arrieta. The Venezuelan speedster excelled for his country in both 7s and XVs this past year, including a try in the Vinotinto’s big win over rivals Peru. His performances have seen the Venezuelan Rugby Union (FVR) nominate him for to participate in the High Performance program at the Estadio Charrúa in Montevideo as part of an agreement with the Uruguayan Rugby Union (URU). Originally from the Alcatraz rugby club, Arrieta is played for Pucaru Stade Gaulois during the Uruguayan championship this season.
The Cayman Islands enjoyed a banner year in 2017 with wins over Bermuda and most notably Mexico, the latter heavy favorites entering the match. Players like Mikey Wilson and Ed Westin are always ones to watch for the Caymans but we’ve opted for flyhalf Morgan Hayward. The left-footed goal kicker returned from knee surgery in 2016 to play a critical role in the wins, making up for his small stature with plenty of skill. Hayward plays his club rugby in Wales but has represented the Caymans since u19 level.
A natural choice for consideration was Ryan Gonsalves, the central figure in Guyana’s offense. Formerly captain of the Green Machine before handing the role to Richard Staglon, the 33-year-old scrumhalf has been a staple in the side for well over a decade and once again inspired his team to success in 2017, earning a spot in the RAN Final by defeating Trinidad & Tobago. Gonsalves is also the goal kicker, an irreplaceable leader in the team.
With Agustín Sánchez sadly felled by injury it was his halfback partner Andrés Rodríguez who stepped up for Mexico. The 21-year-old has been mightily impressive for Las Serpientes since graduating to senior international rugby. Lightning quick around the fringes, if he doesn’t slice through a half-gap himself he holds the fringe defense to make space for a dangerous Mexican backline. The highlight of his season was a two-try performance in the win over the USA South Panthers at Puebla.
The talisman of Colombian rugby. A colossal figure at the back of the Tucanes scrum. Sebastián Mejía captained his country to the South American ‘B’ title and will see his team play in the new Sudamérica Rugby 6 Naciones next season, an accomplishment that heralds the clear progress evident in Colombia’s recent performances. Mejía is the Kieran Read of his country, well rounded and capable of busting tackles and linking with the backs while proving an effective lineout jumper as well. One of the South America’s greatest rugby figures, Sebastián Mejía is our 2017 ARN Emerging Nations Player of the Year.