Thursday, October 25, 2012

ARC provides model for expansion

Photo: UAR
Los Jaguares celebrate ARC title
The third edition of the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC) provided a familiar pattern of results. The Argentine team, Los Jaguares, was crowned champion and like in both previous editions it did so without losing a match. Similarly, the second placed side was the Canadian team, Canada A. The test teams of both countries have long been the top two from the Americas with Canada being better than Argentina for a period in the latter years of amateurism.However with the birth of professional rugby, Argentina has being significantly more competitive than Canada against Tier One opposition.  

The ARC is not professional. It is an amateur competition. It serves both Argentina and Canada by enabling the best domestic based players from both nations to recieve game time against opponents who are also not contracted to professional clubs abroad. The Argentine side is, however, semi-porfessional. The players representing Los Jaguares are members of the PladAR system in Argentina, the program responsible for preparing players for the Vodacom Cup and, in some cases for The Rugby Championship. None of the Jaguares players featured in The Rugby Championship but a number of them could well do so in 2013. 
The ARC is more than just providing potential Argentine and Canadian test players with a bridge from domestic rugby to international. It is designed to make Rugby World Cup´s better. Many players from the 2010 ARC went on to play in Rugby World Cup 2011 for Argentina, Canada and the United States of America. The number of North American players who went from the ARC to the World Cup is higher due to Argentina having a larger number of players at the top level in professional competitions. Players who have gone on to play international rugby after having been blooded in the ARC are significantly better prepared than players simply making the jump from the domestic game to the international stage.It had long been a significant problem for all of Argentina, Canada and the USA. Now though, the problem is smaller. The USA used the 2012 tournament very much with an eye to the future. Although the USA Select XV is techically USA A the side was very experimental with many new faces. Both Argentina and Canada also experimented greatly but not with so many players and the superior number of quality players than both have historically produced compared to the USA meant that the USA was not able to be so competitive in the competition. 
While the USA is firmly in the World´s Top 20 based on IRB World Rankings and results at Rugby World Cup´s the USA Select XV finished fourth and not third in the ARC. Third place went to debutants Uruguay A. The South American nation has been to two Rugby World Cup´s for two wins and five losses. It narrowly missed out on qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2007 after losing by one point on aggregate against Portugal. It failed to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2011 after being eliminated by Romania in the play-off for the final place at the tournament. Uruguay had not been afforded a quality list of matches to prepare itself for Rugby World Cup qualification. It was not touring Europe in November nor hosting incoming tours in June. It did compete in the IRB Nations Cup and the Churchill Cup but not as a permanent participant. Its participation in the ARC offers a window of optimism for Los Teros in the coming years. The coaches can now prepare better and give utilize opportunities to blood players and analyze what is its best game plan. 
Uruguay´s preperation would appear to be better now than for previous World Cup qualification campaign´s. In 2013 Uruguay will face Chile and the winner of this Saturday´s match between Brazil and Chile. The winner of the three team South American regional qualification series will advance to face the loser of Canada v the USA with the winner of that qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2015. The loser will have one more change to qualify through repercharge. Uruguay´s involvement in the ARC is positive and it will be enhanced this November with Portugal playing a test in Montevideo and also facing Chile. Like Uruguay, Chile has suffered from its geographical position. On IRB World Rankings both Chile and Uruguay have been in the World´s Top 25 since the system was created in 2003. Uruguay has been in the Top 20 often while Chile has usually been ranked in 24th position. It has a strong junior team and will host the IRB Junior World Trophy in 2013 and in doing so it will become the first nation to host the tournament twice.
Chile would appear to be in need of more rugby at the senior level and the ideal step to take is for Chile to be added to the ARC in 2013. But this should be the beginning of expansion and not the end. It would be a further indication of the unity in the Americas between the rugby unions belonging to CONSUR and NACRA. Unity is how to grow rugby throughout North and South America. The need to include Chile is great and measures should be taken for it to happen for the fourth edition of the ARC. Brazil could well be the next in line and similar measures are needed for the teams eventual inclusion to not be difficult and nor too long into the future. The IRB in association with CONSUR and NACRA ought to be looking into having a B tournament for the ARC similar to what exists in Europe and Asia with their respective amateur tournaments. The Asian Five Nations, for instance, is based on Tiers with the winner of lower tiers winning promotion and the loser of each Tier being relegated down one division. This would be ideal for  the Americas with the Top 5 already known - Argentina, Canada, Uruguay, USA and Chile. Brazil and Paraguay would begin with the next three from the Americas with the winner being promoted and so on.

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