10 Colombia win CONSUR B
In CONSUR B Colombia had an impressive campaign. The undefeated tournament included a 112-0 win over Ecuador, a 56-6 win over Peru and a 27-10 win against Venezuela. The results are encouraging for Colombia and CONSUR rugby with the country moving arguably moving away from the CONSUR B rivals and closer to Brazil and Paraguay. Ranked close to Colombia in the World Rankings are other Caribbean nations including Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago. Future CONSUR - NACRA integration should act upon this. Mexico host Colombia this Saturday.
9 USA defeat Romania without Aviva Premiership players
Having secured a home test match against New Zealand on November 01 USA Rugby reached an agreement with Premier Rugby to ensure it had access to all players based in England. The date was outside of the mandatory World Rugby release window which meant negotiations were required to free up players for the fixture. The trade-off was Aviva Premiership club contracted players Cam Dolan, Eric Fry, Samu Manoa, Blaine Scully, Hayden Smith and Chris Wyles missed the three other test matches. Also missing was Scott LaValla who played for Stade Français on the same weekend thus missing the Romanian test. He did, however, face not only the All Blacks but also both Tonga and Fiji in November. Against Romania the USA Eagles won 27-17.
8 Brazil defeat Chile in South American Championship
Brazil rewrote history in São Paulo in April by recording a South American Championship victory over Chile. It was Brazil's fist victory v Los Condores since 1981 and ended a ten match losing streak against the Chileans. It was only the second ever win against Chile with the countries first playing against each other in 1951. Despite being a significant accomplishment for Brazilian rugby the Chileans were far below full strength for the fixture. As such it is not positioned higher in the list. Brazil was unable to win its remaining matches, a fact which underlined that Chile's team was not of the usual standard.
7 USA Qualify for World Cup
The USA confirmed it will be involved in Rugby World Cup 2015 with a home and away series win over Uruguay on aggregate in March. The North Americans were given a scare in the opening fixture in which Uruguay completed a late 27-27 draw in Montevideo. The South Americans' scrum had seen them frustrate the USA and prevent opportunities from presenting themselves. The same was true throughout the opening half of the return fixture in Atlanta before an impressive display saw the Eagles cross for four second half tries to win 32-13. The USA will face Japan, Samoa, Scotland and South Africa in Pool B of Rugby World Cup 2015.
6 El Salvador comes back to win CONSUR C
In Central America El Salvador created history by winning the CONSUR C tournament in Panama. The successful campaign opened with a 23-17 loss against Guatemala but with a 25-14 win over Costa Rica and a 29-3 win over Panama El Salvador won the tournament. Of the four competing countries none are World Rugby members. They are, nonetheless, CONSUR members and their membership in the global organ is just a matter of time. Despite their geographical location they play in South America not North America with the strength of Argentina and efforts made to grow the sport being prime reasons for this.
5 Paraguay defeat Brazil in South American Championship
The growth of rugby in Brazil in recent years has seen the Brazilian international team rising to narrow the gap between itself and both Chile and Uruguay. It has also seen Brazil seemingly distancing itself from Paraguay. Such an understanding came crashing down in May as Paraguay won 31-24 in Asunción. Former Puma Mauricio Reggiardo was coaching Los Yakáres and praised with contributing heavily to the outcome. Brazil was without a number of regular players who were involved in Sevens training with the country taking the sport seriously ahead of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016. Paraguay's previous win over Brazil had been in 2005. Overall Brazil has won eleven international matches and Paraguay ten.
4 Argentina defeat France
Argentina's final test of the year was against a reputable European team that had defeated Australia seven days earlier at the same venue. Argentina was coming off a narrow win over Italy and a notable defeat against Scotland in Edinburgh. France was, by all accounts, heavy favorites and Argentina had not won in France since Rugby World Cup 2007. Juan Martín Hernández and Marcos Ayerza were the returning players from 2007 but the later of whom only started against Georgia in the tournament. Twelve of the starting fifteen were Pampas XV past or present and eight of the starters were groomed by Daniel Hourcade in 2014. The reserves were similar with six of the eight not having been involved at all during the Santiago Phelan era of 2008-2013. Argentina's 18-13 win in Paris was therefore nothing short of extraordinary.
3 USA defeat Canada in Pacific Nations Cup
Although 2014 will likely be remembered for the USA hosting the All Blacks at a packed NFL stadium and also qualifying for the World Cup the greatest achievement of the USA Eagles was the home win against Canada. The northern neighbors had won seven in a row against the USA with some wins being by notable margins such as Canada's 41-18 win in 2009, 27-7 win in 2011 and 27-9 in 2013. The 38-35 win in Sacramento, California was a highly entertaining match with nine tries being scored. It was a home town match for Lou Stanfill and Blaine Scully, the later of whom scored two tries.
2 Argentina defeat Australia
Having come extremely close to defeating South Africa in Salta in the second round of the 2014 Rugby Championship the signs were that Los Pumas were close to winning but with a notable injury count it appeared unlikely that a tournament win would come in 2014. Argentina found itself in trouble early with Australia leading 14-0 with two early tries but a Creevy inspired performance saw the South Americans fight back to win 21-17 with Leonardo Senatore and Juan Imhoff scoring tries and Nicolás Sánchez kicking eleven points.
1 Uruguay Qualify for Rugby World Cup
Having qualified for Rugby World Cups 1999 and 2003 and winning a match in both tournaments Uruguay was not involved in Rugby World Cups 2007 and 2011 with Portugal and Romania eliminating the South Americans in the final place play-off. Uruguay faced a similar task to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2015 but, this time, was successful. Los Teros recovered from the home and away series v the USA to defeat Hong Kong and Russia to claim the 20th and final place in England 2015. Uruguay will play in Pool A which included Australia, England, Fiji and Wales.
On a personal note earlier this year I was fortunate to have had an article published by World Rugby (IRB). The article titled 'Food-for-tickets swap promotes Rugby's values' illustrates the attitude of growing the game and helping rugby contribute where required. It can be viewed by clicking here.
USA selling out Chicago's Soldier Field for rugby international
With the Top Ten looking at sporting achivements in 2014 there is not a spot of the Eagles v All Blacks. In November a continental record was set in November as a sold out Soldier Field played host to USA v New Zealand. The home team was overwhelmed as the world's top team won the contest comfortably. It was nonetheless an important occasion for the players, administration, general rugby community in the country and for the global game. A packed NFL stadium showcased the potential of rugby and that efforts ought to be made to embrace markets such as North America, Argentina and Italy for future Rugby World Cups rather than maintaining the pattern of the home nations hosting every eight years.