The third edition of the Americas Rugby Championship comes to an end on Saturday with defending champions USA top of the standings but knowing that any slip up could see them lose their grip on the title.
Gary Gold’s unbeaten side play Uruguay at Estadio Charrúa, followed by the game in Sao José dos Campos between Brazil and the Eagles’ main title rivals Argentina XV. The final round opens in Santiago where Chile will host Canada, a match which will have no bearing on the title race.
If the Eagles win no-one can catch them because they enter Saturday’s finale three points clear of the Argentina XV and a further two in front of Los Teros. Uruguay need to beat the Eagles with a bonus point while at the same time denying their opponents anything from the game to keep their slim hopes of a first ARC title alive. Even then, they would need Brazil to do them a favour against the Argentina XV.
While the USA are unbeaten in 10 Americas Rugby Championship matches, Uruguay themselves are looking to extend their 14-test winning run so a full-on battle is expected between two teams already qualified for Rugby World Cup 2019.
Gold has made two changes to his impressive pack, with Tony Lamborn bringing his wealth of experience to the back row in place of Psalm Wooching, while Brendan Daly is preferred to Nick Civetta in the second row.
In the backs, Paul Lasike (pictured) will start his first test as inside centre and will look to add to his first two tries in consecutive tests. The backline is rejigged with three positional changes to accommodate the former American Footballer.
Scrum-half Santiago Arata returns for Uruguay after injuring his arm in Uruguay's victory over Canada in Montevideo that confirmed their place at RWC 2019. His return means that Uruguay appear to be fielding the strongest possible line-up possible from their home-based players.
“We are very well prepared. It has been a long start of the season, but we are very fit and this has kept us going strong. We are happy to be finishing at home and look forward to a good win,” said centre Andrés Vilaseca, who hands the captain’s armband back to fit-again flanker Juan Manuel Gaminara.
Eagles captain Nate Augspurger knows his side will have to be at their peak to retain the title and become the first side to complete the Americas Rugby Championship with a clean sweep of wins. “We’ve been preparing for a team that has pride and passion and will have a vocal crowd behind them,” said the scrum-half-cum-wing. “It will be a very tough test, but we have a good team, with momentum.”
Argentina XV have once again made wholesale changes to their starting XV to play a Brazilian side that has never beaten an Argentine outfit. Second-row Ignacio Larrague remains in the pack and three players that started last Saturday against Canada in Jujuy remain, including centre Santiago Resino who gets the chance to stake a claim to be the competition's top try scorer in 2018. He is currently tied with Uruguay's Manuel Diana and USA's Hanco Germishuys on three tries.
Brazil have changed both wings with Ariel Rodrigues rewarded for his strong performance off the bench in last week’s defeat to the USA on one flank and Jacobus Wet van Niekerk on the other. William Broderick comes in at scrum-half while the only changes in the pack see Luca Abud get the nod at loose-head and Mauricio Canterle make his Championship debut in the second row.
For Chile and Canada, the game at the Estadio La Pintana in Santiago is about pride and building for the future. While neither team can finish in the top half of the table, it is still a big game for both as Canada need to find some consistency of performance as they build up towards the RWC 2019 global repechage in November and Chile are desperate to end their two-year wait for a win in the competition.
Josh Thiel will make his test debut for Canada at full-back to continue his family’s proud sporting tradition. Son of three-time Rugby World Cup veteran Jon and one-time Women’s Rugby World Cup player Jen Ross, he shone with his twin brother Jake – already a rugby sevens international – in last year’s World Rugby U20 Trophy. At the other end of the experience scale, veteran hooker Ray Barkwill wins his 50th cap.
Scrum-half Gordon McRorie will also start a test at fly-half for the first time in his four-year international career as Kingsley Jones continues to experiment to find his best combinations.
Chile captain José Ignacio Larenas returns after injuring a hand in the opening match and prop José Tomás Munita is back in the team after finishing his exams as Los Condores go in search of their first ARC win since the opening round of the inaugural tournament in 2016.
The climax of Americas Rugby Championship 2018 will be streamed LIVE on the World Rugby website at www.worldrugby.org/arc2018. Some geo-blocking restrictions will apply with more details available here.
Photo credit: Paul Rudman/KLC Fotos