Thursday, 18 February 2016

The benefits of the Americas Rugby Championship

A few thoughts arguing why the concept of the Americas Rugby Championship, despite its lack of star names, will still be of use to those sides involved.

No side involved in the Americas Rugby Championship are at full strength. The USA called up some European based players on a limited basis, but by and large they are absent from all sides.

15 of the USA's 23 were new caps last weekend. Canada are minus around 40 players based in Europe or part of their 7s setup. So results, particularly for those two sides should be taken with a pinch of salt.

So in light of that, in many ways this is just an elongated new version of the old October ARC, but with full test status and given a new coat of paint.

Whilst this means that caps may get devalued somewhat and this tournament may spawn a lot of one or two cap wonders, or the rankings could get distorted by results from teams unrepresentative of their real strength.

There are other reasons why this tournament should still prove worthwhile in the short and long term. Here is a brief run through.

It's actually a tournament

Outside of World Cups, for a long while all Canada & USA have really played is friendlies, or glorified friendlies dressed up as a tournament.
The addition of Canada & USA saw
the PNC become a heavily congested
tournament with heavy travel.

When the North Americans joined the PNC, it either turned out as either no more than just a couple of friendlies like 2014, or alternatively as a set of fixtures and exhausting hops across time zones squashed into two or three weeks.

What differentiates the ARC from the unloved development tournaments such as the PNC or Nations, Churchill & Tbilisi Cups is that t
he fixtures are set over a series of weekends, as opposed to the congested fixtures of the other tournaments.

Whilst in the PNC, we would see cases of the USA in 2013 for example playing in California, then flying out to Nagoya in Japan for a match 4 days later, or in 2015 flying from Sacramento to Toronto for a match 4 days later.

The travel and the congested fixtures obviously hamper preparation. The lack of atmosphere and empty seats we see at neutral matches at events such as one ground events such as Nations Cup are also a turn off.

Now in the ARC, thanks to the better spaced out fixtures, coaches don't have to make lots of changes for midweek matches, and get a full week to spend training and preparing their players. None of that was possible in Canada & USA's previous tournaments.

Regular weekend matches also create more of a routine for fans, and no more neutral double/triple headers also means for less of an empty atmosphere at so many games.

Coaching time

Whilst ideally all sides would be full strength, there could be yet be some invaluable use of this tournament for the coaches.

This rarely gets mentioned, but prior to getting the Pumas top job, Daniel Hourcade coached a lot of the current senior team as part of the Pampas XV or Argentina Jaguars in the Vodacom Cup competition which he led for several years.

The fact many of his players would have been already very familiar with his systems, tactics and methods must surely have been of a huge benefit to helping players from many different European clubs fit more neatly into his side.

John Mitchell will have more time
with his squad than previous USA
coaches thanks to the ARC

Likewise, whilst much of the USA's team may not feature for the Eagles in the short term when all players are available, several of them may be more prominent by 2019 or be called upon for injuries.

And that's where having been able to spend over a month training under John Mitchell could prove invaluable, as they should be find it easier to fit in much quicker and understand his systems.

North American sides have tended in the past to be at a disadvantage in terms of the amount of time their coaches get to spend with their internationals, with not much more than two 3 week international windows a year.

Hopefully this should allow the coaches to have far more impact, begin to build a more cohesive side, and do something to somewhat bridge the gap to the advantage a rival like Japan or every Tier 1 nation has in terms of time spent with coaches.

More potential of growth

Previous tournaments like the PNC or Churchill Cup had zero potential to grow beyond anything other than serving as a vehicle to provide matches.

Commercially this tournament has much more room to work with to grow and become more financially sustainable. There are bigger markets involved and the format as explained is more fan friendly. 

The USA already drew a 10,000 crowd for a weakened team vs Argentina XV despite a poor World Cup and not the biggest of promotions, so there is some hope with bigger name players and stronger promotions that could be built on.

The big name missing players do detract from it, but that could also improve over future editions. The tournament is technically in the World Rugby release window, but with many North Americans under contracts sometimes on the understanding of being available for the 6 Nations period.

It will be interesting to see if this can grow and move away from being more of a development tournament into a more serious one, and it might have been an idea to link RWC qualification to it as is done in the ENC (and thus guaranteeing full strength sides for two editions). But nevertheless this still should be of use to USA, Canada and Uruguay and their goals of building stronger sides and achieving in bigger fixtures.

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