The Argentina XV showed that the future of Los Pumas is in safe hands after winning the inaugural Americas Rugby Championship title with a record of four wins and one draw.
The pre-tournament favourites had gone into the final round in pole position and knowing that only a shock defeat in Brazil and the USA Eagles scoring four more competition points than them in overcoming Uruguay would deny them the title.
Argentina XV signed off in style, in front of 3,400 spectators in Sao José dos Campos, with a 42-7, six-try win against Brazil, a team that surprised many with their positive attitude across the Championship and historic win over the USA Eagles last weekend.
The USA slipped to another last-minute loss, going down 29-25 to Uruguay in Montevideo, and Canada’s emphatic 64-13 victory over Chile in Santiago meant the two finished level on 15 points. The runners-up spot, though, went to USA by virtue of their victory in their encounter with Canada.
Uruguay finished a point behind in fourth with Brazil, the lowest ranked side of the six nations, fifth with six points after one victory and two losing bonus points, and Chile bottom with only a win over the Brazilians to show for their campaign.
ARGENTINA XV FINISH STRONGLY
Buoyed by their defeat of the Eagles and a vibrant and loud home crowd, Brazil made life hard for a young Argentina XV – boasting a pack with an average age of under 22 – despite the one-sided look of the scoreboard.
The Argentines were too strong for their hosts and had wrapped up the try-scoring bonus point before half-time with a brace from winger Juan Pablo Estellés, fly-half Juan Cruz González and flanker José Deheza, all of them converted by Pedro Mercerat.
Brazil, though, were not overawed by their opponents and tried to attack whenever possible and came close to breaching the Argentine line in the first-half, ultimately though they went in trailing 28-0.
The score remained that way until seven minutes from time when young replacement Bautista Delguy dotted down and then Estellés completed his hat-trick with Mercerat again adding both conversions.
While victory and the title had long been assured for the Argentina XV, Brazil had the final say when Lucas Duque, born and raised in Sao José dos Campos, scored a consolation yet deserved try with the final play. His brother Moisés – who had kicked the winning penalty against the USA – added the conversion to bring the curtain down on an enjoyable game.
URUGUAY LEAVE IT LATE
The return of scrum-half Agustín Ormaechea from club duty in France inspired Uruguay to a comeback victory over USA at the Estadio Charrúa, one which left the Eagles to return home without a win on their South American sojourn.
However, the fact that Uruguay were unable to score a try bonus point and the Eagles claimed a second losing bonus point in as many weekends, meant that Los Teros had to settle for fourth place in the inaugural Championship.
On a heavy field, attacking play was somewhat limited and it was the visiting who did most of it in the first half, scoring the only try through flanker Aladdin Schirmer after a good initial break from his fellow back-row and captain Todd Clever.
Agustín Ormaechea, playing in the same team again as his older brother Juan Diego, kicked three penalties for the hosts, but efforts from Chad London and James Bird gave the Eagles a slender 13-9 advantage at half-time.
London’s try stretched that advantage but, with the younger Ormaechea marshalling the forwards well in a commanding display, Uruguay fought their way back to lead 22-20 through hooker German Kessler and two more penalties, capitalising on the yellow card to Ben Landry.
With little more than 10 minutes to play another tense finale lay ahead and so it proved as debutant Deion Mikesell edged the visitors back in front with a great try in the corner, only for Landry to then become the first player sent-off in the 2016 Championship after a second yellow card.
The man advantage gave Uruguay renewed self-belief and with seconds remaining Diego Magno scored the winning try from a driving maul, in the process securing the title for Argentina XV before their match kicked off in Brazil.
The win wasn’t enough to improve Uruguay’s position of 20th in the World Rugby Rankings, but it enabled them to close to within three tenths of Russia above them. The Eagles remain 17th despite losing to another lower-ranked opponent, but now more than two points adrift of Romania above.
CANADA TOO GOOD IN SANTIAGO
In the final round’s other match, Canada did all they could to snatch the runners-up spot with a nine-try 64-13 defeat of Chile and can return home from South America with their heads held high despite ultimately having to settle for third behind neighbours USA.
The 64 points was Canada’s third highest tally in test rugby and their intentions had been clear from the outset with a fast-paced start leading to a try from Nick Blevins inside five minutes. Matias Nordenflycht cut the deficit to one with two penalties, but that was as close as Chile would get.
First test tries followed for Brett Johnson, Gordon McRorie and Kyle Baillie as three tries in six minutes stunned the home side. Phil Mackenzie and Patrick Parfrey got in on the scoring act before Chile captain Benjamín Soto made it 43-13 at half-time.
The try-fest eased a little in the second half with Dan Moor dotting down in the 53rd minute before Blevins’ dummy sent the Chilean defence the wrong way and resulted in his second of the night. Parfrey would also finish with a double after an interception with McRorie finishing with 22 points.
The win will see Canada climb one place to 18th in the World Rugby Rankings on Monday at the expense of Russia. Defeat for Chile will be costly with a three-place fall to 30th with Kenya, Ukraine and Portugal the beneficiaries.
Americas Rugby Championship 2016 final standings
1. Argentina XV – 22 points (+108)
2. USA – 15 points (+67)
3. Canada – 15 points (+53)
4. Uruguay – 14 points (-8)
5. Brazil – 6 points (-68)
6. Chile – 5 points (-152)
Americas Rugby Championship 2016 results and fixtures
Round 1: Chile 25-22 Brazil, Canada 33-17 Uruguay, USA 35-35 Argentina XV
Round 2: Brazil 29-33 Uruguay, Argentina XV 52-15 Chile, USA 30-22 Canada
Round 3: Canada 52-25 Brazil, USA 64-0 Chile, Uruguay 21-24 Argentina XV
Round 4: Argentina XV 54-21 Canada, Brazil 24-23 USA, Chile 20-23 Uruguay
Round 5: Chile 13-64 Canada, Uruguay 29-25 USA, Brazil 7-42 Argentina XV
Photo credit: João Neto/Fotojump (main) / URU