Argentina XV captain Gonzalo Bertranou

Argentina XV captain Gonzalo Bertranou

Americas Rugby Championship set to kick off in Langford

Saturday's opener between Canada and Argentina promises plenty of speed and hard tackles up front

The head coach of Argentina XV, Felipe Contepomi, looked at ease as he spoke about his team’s playing in comparatively frigid conditions against Canada in the Americas Rugby Championship opener at Westhills Stadium this Saturday (Feb. 4).

“We know it’s a big change. We come from 35-plus degrees (Celsius) and we come here to zero degrees or minus something,” he said during a captains and coaches press conference at the field. “This is rugby, it’s part of the adaptation to the conditions.”

The two sides meet for a 5 p.m. match and the game-day forecast is for near-freezing temperature and periods of snow or rain.

Contepomi, the former star fly half of the top Argentine national squad, the Pumas, is guiding a group of up-and-coming stars – a handful played for the country’s World under-20 bronze medal-winning side last year – against a slightly more experienced Canadian side in terms of international caps, but one that also has a distinct youth factor.

“We’ve got 10 guys on the squad that are uncapped,” said Canada head coach Mark Anscombe. “So it’s about looking to the future, giving them opportunities against some good opposition and seeing if these guys are going to have a big part to play for us going forward.”

In Argentina, the Canadians will face a bigger team, but also one that moves the ball well, he said.

“They’ve got big, strong, fast men and they like to play an open game, but they know how to win the ball up front first,” he said.

“We’ve seen the development of their rugby in the last three or four years, that they understand the importance of winning quality ball, but they have the speed and power to get wide with it as well, so it’s going to be a great test for our young team on Saturday.”

Conditioning for Team Canada players is something first-year head coach Anscombe is trying to address, especially in the wake of a winless 2015 World Cup and a disappointing 2016 season that saw Canada slip at one point to 20th in the world rankings.

“What we’ve got to do is to develop and find ways of giving our players an opportunity to play rugby at a better level and be conditioned to play the game at an international level,” he said.

Canada’s captain and starting scrum half Gordon McRorie, 28, has nearly two dozen caps since joining the team in 2014 and knows how powerful Argentina XV can be, having been in the lineup for last year’s 54-21 loss in the ARC.

While he echoed Anscombe’s sentiment that they bring “huge physicality” to the pitch, McRorie said his team has been focusing more on what they can do in this year’s ARC rather than simply being reactive. Talking about the depth and speed Canada currently has in the backs prompted him to recall some successes from the 2015 World Cup in England.

“In the World Cup we were able to put the ball around and put teams under pressure, and that’s something we want to make sure that we keep going with in this tournament,” he said. “But we’ve got to make sure we set the platform with our forwards and make sure we go forward.”

As for Contepomi and company, they hope to use the ARC as a development opportunity for younger players to hone their skills against talented international sides.

“I know in this tournament we are playing three World Cup teams in USA, Canada and Uruguay, so for the guys, it’s quite a big challenge and I think it will be a great experience for them,” he said.

Tickets for Saturday’s game and the Feb. 11 match between Canada and Chile at Westhills (both 5 p.m. start) are still available. Visit events.rugbycanada.ca to purchase or find more information.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com