Don’t cry for Argentina, indeed. And just pray it doesn’t take up ice hockey.
Argentina showed Saturday, with its 23-14 IRB Americas Rugby Championship victory over Canada, before more than 3,500 fans at Westhills Stadium, why it is one of the most successful nations in international team sports. Underdog Canada was valiant in defeat on an engrossing evening in Langford.
“We stepped it up and I was very pleased with our effort,” said Canadian coach Kieran Crowley of Mill Bay, a 1987 World Cup-champion New Zealand All Black.
Everyone understands Argentina’s 1978 and 1986 World Cup soccer titles and the 2004 Athens Olympic gold medal in men’s basketball with Manu Ginobili. But what’s up with its world power in rugby and field hockey? Although obviously not a Commonwealth nation, there has been a notable amount of British immigration in Argentine history.
Whatever the reason, Argentina’s prowess in rugby was on ample display at Westhills as the Jaguars — the development team that grooms future full national team Pumas — won its fourth Americas Championship title in the four-year history of the tournament by going 3-0 while Canada placed third at 1-2.
The Pumas, third in the 2007 World Cup, are now a full member of the Southern Hemisphere Championships along with the storied New Zealand All Blacks, Australian Wallabies and South African Springboks.
“We have a very strong [rugby] culture with very good clubs,” said Argentina Jaguars coach Daniel Hourcade. “Our players are intelligent, skilled and have big hearts.” Canada led 7-3 on a fine, scooting try by centre Mike Scholz of the Castaway Wanderers of Oak Bay that was converted by Jack Fitzpatrick at 12 minutes. But with converted Jaguar tries by centre Javier Rojas and prop Ignacio Lancuba — both scored with Canada down to 14 players because of a yellow card — it was 17-7 at the half to Argentina.
A sizzling try off an interception by centre Conor Trainor of Vancouver brought the crowd to its feet and Canada to within 17-14 at 66 minutes. But two soaring penalty kicks by substitute Patricio Fernandez, from Jockey Club Rosario, put it away for Argentina.
“We are a country of good sportsmen and my wish is to one day play [regularly] for the Pumas,” said Fernandez, 22, who already has two Pumas caps.
Canada did not go down without a fight. “Argentina is a good side but not unbeatable,” said Trainor, who was part of the Canadian team that upended the Argentines 26-24 in the rugby sevens gold-medal final of the 2011 Pan Am Games in Mexico.
“We just went for it tonight . . . We hit them hard from the start and they were a little shell-shocked. I think they were lucky to come out with the win.”
Like Victorians Adam Kleeberger and Sean White, Trainor is a veteran of the 2011 World Cup and gave the young Canadian developmental side some experience in this tournament. Among the rising young stars to emerge from the week was Saturday’s Canadian player of the game Jordan Wilson-Ross of James Bay Athletic Association.
“This game was open for anyone to take,” said winger Wilson-Ross.
Fitzpatrick missed three penalty goals — the margin of defeat and a recurring problem for several Canadian players all tournament — to possibly expose a problem Canada could face when all-time leading scorer Jamie Pritchard (who didn’t play in this tournament) retires from the national side. “The ball just didn’t go over the bar tonight . . . but the future is there,” said Crowley.
The U.S (2-1) took second place in the tournament with a 20-8 victory over Uruguay (0-3) in the first game Saturday at Westhills. The match was a preview of next April’s qualifier for the 2015 World Cup between the U.S. Eagles and Uruguay.
Canada defeated the U.S. Eagles in August to qualify for the 2015 World Cup in England.
But with the 30-10 American victory over Canada on Tuesday at Westhills in this tournament, a storyline began to emerge around how long it will take U.S. rugby to catch up, as in ice hockey, or surpass, Canada as in soccer.
SCRUM BITS: The Canada-Argentina game will be broadcast on Shaw TV twice on Tuesday with times TBA.