Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Americas Rugby: Intercontinental XV of 2014

Photo UAR
The year 2014 was a big year for global rugby with the Americas being a central part of it. Both Uruguay and the USA qualified for Rugby World Cup 2015 to join Argentina and Canada whose participation had been confirmed in previous years. It was also a big year for results for Los Pumas with a Rugby Championship win over Australia and two wins out of three in the November tour of Europe for the first time since 2006. Individual players stood out both at international level and for their clubs. When put together it showcases just how important the Americas is to the sport of rugby. The Americas is the only region never to have been allocated hosting rights to a Rugby World Cup. Argentina wants to host in 2023. 

1 Marcos Ayerza continues to be one of rugby's greatest loosehead props of the modern era. The Leicester Tigers veteran competed yet again at the Semi Final stage of the Aviva Premiership and was an extremely important player for his country as he started in Argentina's wins over Australia, Italy and France. Honourable mention to Matías Díaz for playing Super Rugby for the Highlanders in 2014.

2 Agustín Creevy was named by Daniel Hourcade as Argentina's new captain despite him having been on the bench throughout previous years as Santiago Phelan has utilized Mario Ledesma and then Eusebio Guiñazú as his starting hookers. Creevy had a strong reputation behind hom from playing for Montpellier and Worcester and converted it onto the international arena as a player and a captain. Creevy's lead-by-example performance against France in Paris was arguably the greatest by any player in 2014. Honourable mention to Aaron Carpenter who has now fully converted from back-row to hooker for Canada.

3 Ramiro Herrera was plucked out of thin air by Castres whom he joined in April from the Pampas XV. His rapid rise saw him impress as a medical joker in the Top 14 to the extent that he started the Semi Final and Final for the club. Herrera was then named by Daniel Hourcade in his squad for the June internationals against Ireland and Scotland despite him being previously uncapped. He started for his country in five of the Rugby Championship matches with his scrumaging being noted as worldclass. Honourable mention to Juan Figallo for returning to the field after a serious back injury in 2013.

4 Rodrígo Capó Ortega returned to international rugby after five years to see Uruguay qualify for the World Cup. His contributions as a player and leader were of the highest regard and his reward is to now return to play in a Rugby World Cup after he did so in 2003. Capó Ortega was also a brilliant player for Castres as he played in back-to-back Top 14 finals. Honourable mention to Manuel Carizza who became a South African champion after winning the Currie Cup with Western Province and starting the final.

5 Jamie Cudmore had a big year with Clermont as he held down a starting position en route to a consecutive Semi Final appearance in the Heineken Cup. In addition he has played in 9 of the 11 rounds of the current season thus far. Cudmore also had a more productive year for Canada as he featured throughout the year for his country. Honorable mention to Tomás Lavanini for filling the boots of Patricio Albacete and establishing a name for himself as a player with a bright future.

6 Facundo Isa was a player to be asked to do the impossible - start at the Stade de France in an international when Argentina was missing its leading four back-rowers to injury. Isa played exceptional rugby and also played well against Italy one week earlier. Isa's defensive play had him earning praise and Argentina's back-row options for the Rugby World Cup changed instantly. Honourable mention to Scott LaValla who impressed for the USA at international level and continued to improve playing for Stade Français in the Top 14.

7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe started for Argentina at every opportunity. The veteran of two Rugby World Cups was unable to play a lot of test rugby too though due to a combination of injury and family reasons. For Toulon Fernández Lobbe was a star in winning the Heineken Cup Final and the Top 14 Final. Honorable mention to Canadian John Moonlight who had a strong 2014 both for the Sevens team and Canadian test side.

8 Samu Manoa is arguably the best forward in England. The Californian has started the 2014-2015 season in a destructive manner in both the Aviva Premiership and the European Rugby Champions Cup. His club, Northampton, lead the English premiership at the midway point and are looking to win back-to-back titles. In May Manoa became an English champion when Northampton defeated Saracens in the final with him starting. Manoa was also a colossal player for the USA in qualifying for the World Cup, defeating Canada in June and hosting the All Blacks in November. Honorable mention to Tyler Ardron who improved both for Canada and the Ospreys and will be a key figure for his country at the World Cup.

9 Tomás Cubelli stepped up when requiried as he scored twice from the bench against Scotland in what was Argentina's worst performance of the year. Cubelli's performance gave his team a better scoreline than what would have otherwise eventuated. He also scored against South Africa in Salta and captained Argentina to victory over Italy in Torino. In doing so Cubelli appears to now firmly be the leading Puma 9 going into the World Cup. Honourable mention to Agustín Ormeachea for his performances for Mont de Marsan in France and in seeing Uruguay qualify for the World Cup.

10 Nicolás Sánchez started all but one test for his country against Tier One opposition and stood out in the final test of the year as Argentina won in Paris. Sánchez landed three drops goals in the match and created opportunities in that and other matches, He was named as the best fly half in the 2014 Rugby Championship Honourable mention goes to Benjamín Urdapilleta who saw Oyonnax avoid relegation and is the second best point scorer at present in the Top 14 season.

11 Juan Imhoff scored the vital try for Argentina over the Wallabies and was a regular linebreaker throughout the tournament. He also played well in November, notably so against the French. Imhoff was also an important player for Racing Métro and scored some impressive tries in both the Heineken Cup and Top 14. Honourable mention to Horacio Agulla who played very well for Bath in the Aviva Premiership and was notably improved for Argentina compared to 2013.

12 Juan Martín Hernández made the move to inside centre for the Rugby Championship and came out of it for the better. The veteran Puma produced some of his best performances in international rugby since Rugby World Cup 2007 in Argentina's narrow loss against South Africa and win over France. He also played well at fly half against Italy. Honourable mention to Santiago Fernández who joined Bayonne from Montpellier and proved crucial in the club avoiding relegation.

13 Marcelo Bosch started for Saracens in both the Aviva Premiership Final and Heineken Cup Final. The London based club was unable to win either competition but had been leading the English final until Northampton scored at the very end of the match. Bosch kicked some goals from inside his own half in 2014 and also started the bulk of the test matches he was involved in. Honourable mention to Uruguayan centre Joaquín Prada who started all twelve of his country's tests and scored some impressive tries in the process.

14 Jeff Hassler made the most of his opportunity at the Ospreys to start regularly for the Welsh region. His performances earned praise to the extent that he was named in the Pro 12 Dream Team. Before getting injured in November Hassler had arguably been the best winger in Wales. Honorable mention to Blaine Scully who was a hero for the USA against Canada and also dazzled against Japan in 2014. Scully's form for Leicester in 2014 was also extremely noteworthy.

15 Joaquín Tuculet got release early from his Bordeaux-Begles contract to return home to Argentina and preapre for the international season. His decision proved screwed as he became Argentina's first choice fullback and performed with distinction. Tuculet scored tries against Australia, Ireland, South Africa and Scotland. His option taking from fullback was vastly different to that of players from previous ruby Championships. Honourable mention to Chris Wyles who had a good year for both Saracens and the USA. 

No comments:

Post a Comment