ARC hailed a success ahead of final round
By Frankie Deges
From Córdoba, Argentina
With the third and final round to be played on Friday and the Argentina Jaguars having already secured a second successive Americas Rugby Championship, it is player development that now takes centre stage for the four competing teams at this IRB tournament in Córdoba, Central Argentina.
The importance of this level of competition for Argentina, Canada, Tonga and the United States is such that the four national coaches have been involved with their teams in different capacities. There has been a universal thumbs-up.
Rugby World Cup 2011 kicks off in only 329 days and many of those representing their countries here could find their way into the respectives squads for New Zealand next year.
The Jaguars have produced more than a dozen full internationals in the last couple of seasons. Attending the tournament were national coaches Santiago Phelan and his assistant Fabián Turnes.
“As coaches, the ARC gives us a great opportunity to look at players at a level higher than club rugby and also to confirm that thanks to the High Performance Units in Argentina (and financed by the IRB) our players are fitter, stronger and better drilled in the way we want our national teams to play,” said former Test centre Turnes.
Some of them will find their way into the November European tour yet the bulk of the squad, it is hoped, will form the base of Rugby World Cup 2015.
“We have a settled senior squad – some of the home-based players in the Jaguars are in it. But these guys in Córdoba are going to be crucial for the following World Cup and these tournaments are great for them to learn the trade before establishing themselves at test level.”
Argentina Jaguars - Tonga A
Argentina Jaguars, who tackle Tonga A at 19:45 (local time), arrive on the back of wins against USA Select XV 45-12 on Sunday and Canada Selects 49-14 in the opening round.
Tonga A will put out their strongest outfit for their last game. Coach Feleti Faotusia is happy with the way his players have developed on tour. “For many it was the first trip overseas and initially they were nervous but now they're more settled and that level of confidence is something that will be reflected in their future rugby.”
Faotusia is the forwards coach of Tonga's national side the Ikale Tahi and with him in Córdoba is the country's head coach, Isitolo Maka.
“All but four of these players are based in Tonga so the ARC has been very helpful to develop that level of rugby. We are delighted to have been invited,” he said. Tonga will want to end the tournament with a win after a narrow 20-15 loss to USA Select XV and a 32-16 loss to the Canadians.
USA Select XV - Canada Select XV
Another advocate of the importance of the Americas Rugby Championship is Eagles coach Eddie O’Sullivan. The former Ireland boss picks a USA Select XV to play a mouth-watering tie against Canada Selects at 17:45pm.
"It's a wonderful opportunity to assess players as we are going into a World Cup year," he said. "Last spring we had a camp with 65 World Cup hopefuls and my plan is to go to 45 after the fall tour.
“Some of the players in this ARC squad are playing for places on that tour and the Rugby World Cup is in the back of everybody’s mind.
"This has also provided these players with an opportunity to reduce the gap between amateur and professional rugby," added O'Sullivan, whose full US Eagles team comprises 15 foreign-based professionals. "It has been a tough tour but one that has provided players and coaching staff with a lot of challenges that will give us good value in the future.”
Opposing coach Kieran Crowley is also an advocate and would like to see the tournament played every year in the future.
“It is a great opportunity for us to create depth,” he said. "Some players have enhanced their chances (of playing in the November Tests and World Cup) and this is a bonus to take out of this tour to Argentina.”
Crowley, echoing the rest of the coaches, concluded: “The ARC is very necessary, it's huge for us and an event that should continue even in 2011.”
For the referees the tournament has also been a fast track learning experience.
“We have two levels of referees in this ARC. On the one hand Francisco Pastrana, who has just been added to the IRB Panel as assistant referee, and Bryan Arciero (Canada) and Chris Henshall (USA) who are at a development stage,” said IRB Performance Reviewer and Referee Coach Carlos Molinari.
“It is interesting that this kind of championship can cater for different levels of development. The outcome of this tournament is that the three officials and two assistant referees are better for the experience.”
Six games in 10 days: opportunities galore for players, coaches and referees, the Americas Rugby Championship has proved to be a successful tournament.
Results to date:
USA Select XV 20-15 Tonga A
Argentina Jaguars 49-14 Canada Selects
Argentina Jaguars 45-12 USA Select XV
Canada Selects 32-16 Tonga A