OpinionTuesday, April 22, 2014
An exciting tournament
It was clear this past weekend that re-launching the Torneo Nacional de Clubes (National Club Championship) after a couple of years in which it was abandoned was a great idea. Expectations were high: the best 16 clubs in the country, at the start of the season promised to be a sensational event; what was seen in six rounds was really encouraging — a bigger and better future awaits this tournament.
When the NdC was presented, the now Unión Argentina de Rugby President Carlos Araujo argued that “it would have been great to have an extra weekend.” It wasn’t possible to fit quarterfinals as the number of weekends available were not enough as provincial unions have their tournaments to play. Thus, the top team in each group advanced directly to the semi-finals to be played this weekend.
With CUBA and defending champion Duendes, having qualified 10 days ago, every minute of Round Six was needed to find the other two semi-finalists. With teams divided in four pools of four, there was a lot to play for as the last team not from Buenos Aires in each pool has to play for relegation — the province they represent loses a slot in next year’s tournament.
Jockey Club de Rosario had to trust their own ability and go for a win with a bonus point in their visit to Alumni. Having scored four tries, their fate depended on what was happening in Newman where pool leaders Tala only had to win to advance to the top four. It needed a late penalty by former Puma Felipe Contepomi to turn the Cordoba team’s dreams into nightmare with 12-12 giving the Rosario team the place in semis.
“We did not want to lose at home,” said Contepomi of his decision to go for three points in a game that had nothing at stake for his team. That was the spirit with which every team played in the tournament in fact, every club won at least one game and there are no unbeaten sides going into the two final rounds.
The other pool in search of its semi-finalist also took every minute to find it and had the crowds enjoying a pulsating game in Córdoba. Hindú flew there in need of a win or two bonus points to advance, played against La Tablada that also needed to win to avoid playing for relegation.
Hindú scored four tries and was ready to celebrate a good win when the home side launched a comeback that saw them snatch the game with the last kick. Former Italian international Ramiro Pez kicked an 82nd minute penalty to give his side a hard-fought 36-35 win. Everybody celebrated: Hindú secured the ticket to the semi-final and La Tablada avoided playing in the relegation zone.
The other two finalists were not given an easy day. Rotating their squad, Duendes lost to Jockey Club, Córdoba 22-37 and CUBA was well beaten by Universitario de Tucumán 10-34.
This weekend will see two great games in Rosario. Duendes will host Hindú and Jockey will be playing at home against CUBA.