ARC champion Jaguars remain unbeaten
By Frankie Deges
Having secured the second Americas Rugby Championship title before going into the third and final round on Friday, the Argentina Jaguars found their stiffest opposition in Tonga A, who, despite losing 28-20 and going home with no points, were delighted with the way they performed in their last game.
Canada Selects took a deserved second place having beaten the USA Select XV 17-6. Both games were influenced by foul weather – drizzle, wind and cold temperatures affecting four teams that had enjoyed great weather in the previous two weeks. Having played and trained on firm pitches, everybody had to readjust. Notwithstanding the discomfort, this was also an important aspect of the player’s development - learning to play the conditions - a key goal for the tournament.
It was still an appreciative crowd that bade farewell to the competing teams after a tournament that has grown from its inaugural event a year ago in Canada and has a bright future.
The four national teams from this Americas Rugby Championship will tour Europe in November and all four coaches have found players ready to take the next step, putting themselves in the frame for next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Canada Selects 17-6 USA Select XV
It took Canada Selects and the USA Select XV an hour to find their feet in such difficult playing conditions. The first half was played far from the in-goal areas as the bad weather forced both teams into many mistakes.
The only scoring opportunity of the first half was a long range, angled penalty kicked by USA Select XV fly half Nese Malifa, after Canada Selects were penalised for killing the ball, to settle the 3-0 half-time score.
The second half saw the Canadians come out with more intent and soon took control with two Connor Braid penalties within the first seven minutes.
Although the Americans temporarily drew level with a second Malifa kick, the game became somewhat entangled and three players saw yellow cards.
The Canadians, despite being one man down, scored the opening try when they crossed close to the posts. A penalty was kicked to touch and consecutive mauls set up the try. Captain Pat Riordan was stopped almost on the try-line and offloaded to replacement prop Jason Marshall. Despite being momentarily held, he soon freed himself for the five-pointer.
Braid missed the conversion of that 62nd minute try, but would stretch the lead to 14-6 on the 77th minute and with the last kick of the match he increased it to 17-6 to secure second place in the tournament.
“It has been a great tournament for us and those players that have not yet played Test rugby will have learnt enormously from this high level of rugby,” said a delighted Riordan. “Everybody here has looked after us extremely well and made us feel at home.”
Argentina Jaguars 28 – 20 Tonga A
For the second game the drizzle stopped yet a strong wind still played a role. Tonga A, playing into the wind, took less than one minute to open the scores when the Jaguars were penalised right after kick-off and Fangatapu Apikotoa converted in front of the posts.
It did not take long for the Jaguars to reply. Two minutes later, after a scrum on the halfway line, scrum half Martín Landajo ran down the blindside, finding a huge gap that saw him, 50 metres later, in the in-goal.
The Tongans showed huge commitment to the tackle for all of the following 33 minutes and reduced the home side to only two Ignacio Mieres penalties, until in the 38th minute wing Agustín Gosio scored his third tournament try after a great offload from Horacio San Martín. Although the Jaguars had played most of the opening 40 minutes in the Tongan half, the 18-3 half time score was an unfair reflection of the Pacific Islanders efforts.
Tonga A, with the wind at their backs, took the game to the Jaguars in the second half. Playing with physicality and through the middle, they were soon applying pressure with ball control. Although never in a real attacking position, they did add three points from a penalty.
The Jaguars’ advantage was extended once again a few minutes later when replacement fly half Federico Nicolás Sanchez added three points with a penalty.
The Tongans had their fair reward in the 19th minute when, after driving through the middle and pushing hard, they managed to cross for a much celebrated try from centre Damien Fakafanua, converted by the efficient Apikotoa.
Ten minutes later, from a kick that did not find touch, full back Joaquín Tuculet started a counter-attack that, six phases later, put Juan Imhoff in for the Jaguars’ third try. It was the best try of the day.
It seemed that this would be the final score of this Americas Rugby Championship, but Tonga A had other ideas and kept probing the Argentine defence, and when replacement fly half Mesui Lemoto scored almost on full time, his team-mates celebrated almost as if they had won.
“We had a good game, the best in this ARC and go home happy at putting together a performance such as this against a very good team,” said coach Feleti Faotusia.
The Jaguars, who now fly to Moscow for two games against the Russian national side, were delighted having taken the win, yet coach Daniel Hourcade acknowledged this wasn’t the best performance in the tournament.
“Tonga was a very hard team so we are happy that we won. Our team had a very good preparation leading into the tournament and we managed to play some quality rugby which is very positive as we now re-focus for a hard tour.”
The success of this second edition of the Americas Rugby Championship was evident.
“This tournament proved to be a very successful preparation platform for USA, Canada and Tonga in particular as they prepare for their November Test programme and in terms of building their preparation plans for RWC 2011,” said Mark Egan, IRB Head of Development and Performance.
“With regards to Argentine rugby, their performance is a confirmation that the Jaguars programme is making excellent progress. I have been very impressed with the fitness and conditioning of the squad who showed superior skills and execution compared to the Tier 2 Union teams, who will have gained a lot from participating against a strong Jaguars team.”