The Unión de Rugby del Uruguay will host the first edition of World Rugby’s Americas Pacific Challenge (APC), a development tournament that gathers teams from three key regions of World Rugby and runs from 8-16 October.
Introduced to offer a new tier of competition for the six participating nations, the APC will be played in its entirety at the Estadio Charrúa, the home of Uruguayan rugby.
Uruguay A and Argentina XV, from Sudamérica Rugby, are joined by Canada A and USA Selects, the two representatives from the Rugby Americas North region, while Fiji Warriors and Samoa fly the flag for Oceania.
The APC will be played over three rounds, spread over eight days, with three games in each matchday.
The competition kicks off on Saturday with Argentina XV opening against Canada A at 12.00pm (local time), followed by USA Selects v Fiji Warriors at 2.15pm, concluding at 4.30pm with Samoa A playing Uruguay A.
As host, Uruguay have been able to select a squad from players who’ve been working all year at their High Performance centre, located under the stands of the Charrúa Stadium.
Former Munster prop Mario Sagario, one of nine veterans from last year’s Rugby World Cup, leads a squad that contains five uncapped players, with coach Esteban Meneses aiming to promote new talent ahead of a busy November window and an even busier 2017 season.
“Our goal is to continue growing the game-plan our coaching staff wants us to play. These games are very important to know where we are standing,” said captain Sagario. “We want to prove our fans and World Rugby that we are capable of competing against these teams and in these tournaments.”
Having only crossed the River Plate, Argentina XV will continue to use these World Rugby-funded competitions as a way of promoting players not only for Los Jaguares, the Super Rugby franchise that made its debut earlier this year, but other national teams, such as Pumas Sevens and Los Pumitas, the under-20s.
The squad is captained by scrum-half Felipe Ezcurra, who toured as third choice to New Zealand and Australia with Los Pumas in the Rugby Championship. Competing in the APC will enable Ezcurra to get much-needed game time after playing second fiddle to Martin Landajo at Super Rugby and international level. Flanker Rodrigo Baéz, who won the last of his 16 caps in November 2014, returns after a long injury lay-off.
A number of players from the team that finished third at World Rugby U20 Championship 2016 also get a chance to shine at senior level, including exciting full-back Bautista Delguy (pictured) and Fernando Luna, who captained Argentina Sevens at the Olympic Games.
From the North
From the North come Canada A and USA Selects, who have already played against their South American rivals in the inaugural Americas Rugby Championship back in February.
Sixteen of the Canadian squad went on the A team tour of the United Kingdom last month. “It’s an opportunity for the local guys to press a claim for the November test window. It also gives them some good hard, preparation for the November matches. This tournament has two sides to it: it’s an opportunity but it’s also preparation,” said new Canadian senior men’s coach Mark Anscombe.
With a combined total of 165 test caps between them, Kyle Baillie, Ray Barkwill, Rob Brouwer, Nanyak Dala, Andrew Ferguson, Matt Heaton, Ryan Kotlewski, Phil Mackenzie, Gordon McRorie, Dan Moor, Pat Parfrey and Lucas Rumball provide the bulk of the experience within the Canadian squad.
Neighbours USA Selects have similar goals with a young squad, 11 of whom have played in the recently launched Pro Rugby club competition. "We anticipate many of these players will challenge for Eagle spots in the near-term, but the hope is, with better investments in their growth today, we can help shape the Eagle leaders of the next Rugby World Cup quadrennial (2023) with an eye on improved return on investments in the medium and long term," said Alex Magleby, USA Rugby general manager of national teams and performance.
Fiji on familiar ground
Lastly, and from much further afield, Fiji Warriors and Samoa A head to Uruguay with the intention of giving their home-based players and up-and-coming stars exposure to quality rugby in a competitive environment.
The Warriors, now coached by Senirusi Seruvakula and his assistant Jonetani Waqa, will be hoping to repeat the success they enjoyed on last year’s tour to South America when they beat Uruguay and Argentina XV.
Samoa have drawn on a good blend of players from domestic club rugby and others based overseas in New Zealand, from Auckland, North Harbour and Wellington. They are coached by former All Black centre, Alama Ieremia.
“We’re trying to use this team as a pathway for Manu Samoa. It’s very important that the protocols and trainings are very close to the Manu Samoa. For me it’s an important programme both locally and overseas as well. I have very high expectations for this programme. I’m hoping it leads to a lot more local players becoming involved in it,” said Ieremia
World Rugby Americas Pacific Challenge 2016 fixtures:
*All times are local
Saturday, 8 October:
12:00 - Argentina XV v Canada A
14:15 - USA Selects v Fiji Warriors
16:30 - Samoa A v Uruguay A
Wednesday, 12 October:
12:00 - Samoa A v Fiji Warriors
14:15 - USA Selects v Canada A
16:30 - Argentina XV v Uruguay A
Sunday, 16 October
12:00 - Samoa A v Canada A
14:15 - USA Selects v Uruguay A
16:30 - Argentina XV v Fiji Warriors