Argentina opens Americas title repeat bid in Canada

Los Angeles (AFP) - Argentina launches its bid to defend the Americas Rugby Championship crown Saturday at Canada in the opening weekend of the second edition of the two-continent, round-robin showdown.

The United States will host Uruguay on Saturday, but action officially got underway in Sao Paulo on Friday as Brazil defeated Chile 17-3 in the opening contest of the Six Nations-styled event.

Brazil and Chile were bottom of the table last year and remain in the developmental stages of the sport.

Argentina will send a second-level squad to face national teams, as top Pumas players will be competing in Super Rugby starting this month.

Nevertheless, defeating them will be a formidable task.

"This is a very useful tournament for the Argentine Rugby Union as it provides a high standard of competition against three teams that were in Rugby World Cup, which allows us to develop more players," Argentina coach Felipe Contepomi told the Buenos Aires Herald.

"It falls at the start of the season and we only managed two weeks of preparation but this is a very good set of young players with an eye to the future."

A forecast for near-freezing temperatures and possible snow at City of Langford on Vancouver Island near Victoria, British Columbia, had tournament officials warily monitoring field conditions for the Canada-Argentina match.

Rugby Canada issued a statement on Friday saying it expected the match to go on as scheduled but would be aware of "player welfare."

Contepomi said Thursday his team were prepared for the unfamiliar conditions.

"This is rugby, it's part of the adaptation to the conditions," he said.

While Argentina has already booked a spot in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Canada and the United States play a qualifying series in June with the winner advancing and the loser likely to face another tournament foe to decide another berth in Japan.

- Building to the qualifier -

That looming confrontation adds to the pressure on Canada on Saturday, as nine players strive for their first caps in the event after 19 made their national team debuts last year.

"It's all building to the qualifier," Canada coach Mark Anscombe said.

"We've got an opportunity to see what these young guys have got. By giving some guys opportunities here we’re extending the depth of our squad, seeing if guys can handle the step up.

"We've got to make sure we're ready to go when the qualifier hits and they understand the level of rugby that's going to be required from them to be successful."

Canada boasts prop Djustice Sears-Duru of the Pro 12 Glasgow Warriors and Matt Tierney and Matt Beukeboom of French top-level side Pau.

Cardiff Blues fullback Blaine Scully will captain a US squad that includes Irish-born fly-half A.J. MacGinty, who will return to English Premiership Sale after facing Uruguay.

"With the qualifiers coming close, we are looking for the individuals whose talent is connected to the team first and committed to raising his standards each week," US coach John Mitchell said.

"We are enthusiastic about having a greater presence on our opposition through becoming a four-try-plus-threat test team regardless of whom we play.

"We presented ourselves plenty of opportunities to achieve (that) in 2016, but we let ourselves down too often by being selfish on the ball and not passing earlier to optimize our situation. We made some good gains in attack, but we still haven't met our offensive and defensive goals."