Select XV and Jaguars open ARC accounts
Argentina Jaguars and USA Select XV opened the second edition of the Americas Rugby Championship with wins against Canada Select and Tonga A respectively, in Córdoba, Argentina.
USA Select twice came from behind to win 20-15 and the home side scored seven tries to one in a solid 49-14 win to take the lead after the first batch of round robin matches.
USA Select 20-15 Tonga A
With the wind on their backs, Tonga A took control of the opening quarter, setting up camp in American territory and seldom allowing their opponents to play beyond the halfway line and, although they scored the half’s only try, their 8-3 half time lead might have been more generous had their kicking been more accurate.
Twice in two minutes points went begging when full back Fine Vea Mesui Lemoto narrowly missed 40-metre penalties and then outside half Fangatapu Apikotoa hit the upright with a neat drop-goal, but the opening points came in the 21st minute when the USA team was penalized for not releasing in a tackle, allowing Lemoto to kick a three-pointer.
That spurred the Selects who not only crossed the halfway line with intent for the first time but also put Tonga A under pressure. No points were scored though and the Tongans were soon in another attacking position. From the back of a scrum, workmanlike number eight Matini Lupou scored after a back-row move. Lemoto missed the easy conversion, again hitting the upright.
not until the 30 minute mark did USA finally manage to get on the scoreboard with an easy Nese Malifa penalty after Tonga A erred offside. A second, long-range drop goal from Apikotoa missed and the teams went to the break with the Tongans leading 8-3.
At the restart the USA Select side wasted no time in using the wind, now on their backs, and after establishing an attacking position they converted it into points when flanker Pat Danahy crossed despite some good tackling.
The conversion missed, Tonga once again went on the attack, hooker Pataleone Vi and captain Tupou exchanging passes after a clear break from the hooker for their second try. Apikotoa converted Vi’s try and the game opened up.
A raking counter attack did not yield points for the Selects when lock Brian Doyle dropped the ball within inches of the goal line but Tai Enosa, a star performer for US Under 20s a year ago broke the Tongan defence with ease with a side step and ran unopposed for a converted try to draw the game level.
In the 64th minute Tonga lock Taumei Hikila was crucially sin-binned for a shoulder charge and, with a man advantage, the Selects pounced to seal the win, lock Samu Manoa touching down after the ball was moved from one flank to the other and back.
“We are happy with the win, this is the first national tour for a number of our players so it is very special,” said US national coach Eddie O’Sullivan. “A number of places for the fall tour could be decided on this trip and every player is wanting to make an impression.”
But for a few handling errors, the score might have been bigger for the Selects, who have plenty to work on ahead of their upcoming matches.
“Although not happy with those mistakes, I told the team that the positive thing other than the win is that we did not make system errors,” said captain Nic Johnson.
Tonga A’s best performer, scrumhalf Soane Havea, explained that “we made some few mistakes and gave them the opportunities which they used to beat us. But we will grow from our mistakes.”
Argentina Jaguars 49-14 Canada Select
Soon after the first match of the piece and with the sun setting in the nearby Córdoba hills, the Argentine Jaguars took to the field against Canada Select.
From the start, the home team was clearly inspired by the support of some 3,000 spectators and looked to attack, controlling the ball efficiently and unsettling the Canadian defence.
It took 10 minutes to break the resistance, full back Joaquin Tuculet put through after some slick passing, and although Canada took their first points with a Connor Braid penalty in the 12th minute - one of three he kicked in the first half - the home side largely dominated.
Outside half Ignacio Mieres kicked penalties on 15 and 21 minutes and the Jaguars took full advantage of Brian Erichsen's yellow card for a shoulder charge, scoring their second try through capped winger Mauro Comuzzi.
Erichsen returned but still the Canadians were under pressure and it was through the forwards that the third Jaguar try emanated, lineout ball cleverly mauled allowing prop Mauricio Guidone to score close to the posts.
The bonus-point try was very much celebrated, local boy Genaro Fessia scoring in the 40 minute and Canada closed out the first half scoring with Braid’s third penalty to make it 30-9.
Back from the changing rooms, the Canadians attacked the Argentines with intent but it would be the home side that scored when winger Agustín Gosio showed his speed after a good inside pass from centre Juan Pablo Estellés.
Great skills were involved in the next try as winger Comuzzi twice kicked on the right hand touch for flanker Leonardo Senatore to score; Mieres added the goal to stretch the lead to 44-9.
With both teams using their subs, the game stalled a little and produced no points for the next 25 minutes. Canada tried to break the Argentine defensive wall but despite having possession it was not possible until the 77th minute, when replacement Stanley McKeen was at the bottom of a drive.
The Jaguars, who had aimed to concede no tries, felt aggrieved and from the next play a great move from the backs and a deep run from full back Joaquín Tuculet produced the game’s final try for Gosio.
“Argentina really took it to us, they were very accurate and put us under pressure early on. Through the HP setup they have, their players are accustomed to playing at a higher tempo and that is one of the lessons of the game against them,” said Canadian coach Kieran Crowley.
The winning coach was happy with his side’s display. “Our first half was very efficient, we ran very strongly and with great angles. We were constantly attacking and always applied pressure. The second half, with the use of subs, was a bit disjointed and we need to work on our penalty count – seven in the second half is not acceptable, but we are happy with the win," said Jaguars coach Daniel Hourcade.
In the next round of matches, on Sunday 10 October, Canada Select will play Tonga A and the two first round winners, USA Select XV and the Jaguars will take each other on.