Six nations will compete at the World Rugby Americas Pacific Challenge 2017 from 7-15 October as they prepare to build the strength in depth of their squads in the run up to Rugby World Cup 2019, or in some cases for the final stages of the qualifying process.
With three matches each, the tournament will offer a timely opportunity for aspiring players from Uruguay, Argentina, Canada, USA, Samoa and Tonga to stake a claim for full national honours ahead of the game's flagship event in Japan in two years' time.
“Our goal is to see new players and give them the chance to show us their talent at a higher level after having had a good domestic season,” said Uruguay A coach Oscar Durán.
WORLD CUP VETERANS
As well as introducing new blood, Rugby World Cup 2015 prop Duran has selected four of his former team-mates. Veterans Diego Magno and Mario Sagario are joined by hooker Germán Kessler and centre Joaquín Prada, who returns to the fold having spent the last few months completing his medical studies.
“These players need game-time ahead of the two-test series with Canada in January and February. They didn’t play much this season and we want to give them high-level action," said Durán.
The series Durán refers to will determine whether Uruguay or Canada secure the Americas 2 spot in Pool D at RWC 2019. The loser of the home and away play-off will then have one final roll of the dice to make it to Japan via the global repechage tournament.
Samoa will join them in that four-team competition if they fail to win the Europe/Oceania play-off, while Argentina, USA and Tonga have already confirmed their places at RWC 2019.
Uruguay's Americas 2 play-off opponents Canada have named RWC 2015 veteran front-rowers Hubert Buydens and Ray Barkwill, with 85 caps between them, in their 28-man squad. Back-row Kyle Gilmour, first capped in 2013, is also included.
Buydens and Gilmour are coming back from injury while Barkwill is in the squad to serve as a mentor to rookie hookers Eric Howard and Martial Lagain. Young players like Guiseppe du Toit and Lucas Rumball also have senior caps to their name, as has back Patrick Parfrey.
“The rest of the squad are pretty inexperienced,” admitted Canada A coach Mike Shelley. “This is a chance for our best domestic players to get out there.”
Argentina XV won the inaugural Americas Pacific Challenge in 2016, beating Fiji Warriors 27-26 in a dramatic final. And the Felipe Contepomi-coached team arrive in Uruguay in good spirits after their recent 38-33 win against Los Teros which saw them lift the Sudamérica Rugby Cup.
They begin their campaign against Canada A in the second match of the opening round on Saturday. USA Select XV and Samoa A are first up with the match between Tonga A and Uruguay A the final act of the day.
The USA Select XV squad features six players who featured in last year's competition, including talented fly-half Ben Cima who went on to make his test debut in 2017.
Coach Scott Lawrence recognises the importance of the Americas Pacific Challenge as a launchpad for future test stars. "Playing for USA Selects in the APC is an opportunity for some of our domestic men's athletes to put their hand up for November and beyond," he said.
This is the second time that Uruguay have hosted the Americas Pacific Challenge in a busy 12-month period that has also seen the World Rugby Nations Cup and the World Rugby U20 Trophy come to Montevideo. In between, Los Teros played home matches there in the Americas Rugby Championship and Sudamérica Rugby’s regional tournaments.
“For us it is great to enjoy such high standard of rugby at home, it pushes us to be better all the time," concluded Durán.
The Americas Pacific Challenge will be streamed live at worldrugby.org/apc2017 across all three match days. Geo-blocking restrictions will apply in Argentina and Uruguay where the games will be shown live on television.