The 7th Annual Churchill Cup tournament kicks off this weekend with a bevy of talented rugby teams all looking to bring home the title. This season’s tournament marks the first time that the entire schedule will be played on American soil, as Denver plays host to the tournament with games being played at Glendale’s Infinity Park and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
“The Churchill Cup continues to be a valuable part of our international season, offering top class international competition, as well as allowing us to showcase international rugby to new audiences in the United States,” said Nigel Melville the CEO of USA Rugby. “We are delighted to play at two great facilities in Infinity Park and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. This will give the Churchill Cup, and rugby in general, a great platform in a wonderful sporting city and help us achieve our objective to grow the sport.”
The tournament features six international rugby teams split into two pools of three teams. Pool A contains Canada, Georgia, and Ireland “A”. Pool B has the USA Eagles, Argentina Jaguars, and England Saxons. The festivities kick off at Glendale’s Infinity Park this Saturday as Georgia face a stern test against Canada at 4.30pm(MST).
With a share of new faces joining the squad, the #13 internationally-ranked Georgian team braved the elements at Infinity Park this afternoon to ramp up preparations for its Saturday match.
The learning curve for the newcomers must be high, as the team faces a win-hungry Canadian team fresh off a tough loss versus Wales.
“Our time in Colorado has been good so far—we have a lot of new guys training with us since a lot of our more experienced players are missing this tournament for the French Championships,” Georgia Head Coach Tim Lane said. “Although it’s a bit disappointing not to have our top team assembled, this is an important opportunity for us. We need to develop our depth for the Rugby World Cup coming up in 2011.”
Canada finds themselves in the same boat as the USA. The Churchill Cup will serve as part of their warmup for two important World Cup qualifying matches to be played in July. While winning at the Churchill Cup is the goal, winning the qualifying series against the USA is far more important.
In the first round of pool play, Saturday’s action at Infinity Park also features England Saxons versus the Argentina Jaguars at 2pm.
The defending Churchill Cup champions England Saxons got straight into training this morning at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and the Englishmen refused to let a little rain deter them from their training.
Loaded with talent, the Saxons come into the Churchill Cup as the team to beat. The team boasts eight players that have been capped as full internationals by England including Danny Cipriani, Luke Narraway, Shane Geraghty, and speedster Tom Varndell.
“The weather is not what we were expecting but it’s no different to a rainy day in London,” said the England Saxons Head Coach, Stuart Lancaster. ”It hasn’t affected our preparation in any way and the players have adapted really well.”
Having arrived in Denver yesterday afternoon, the Saxons have just four days to get ready for their showdown against the Jaguars at Infinity Park.
“We have been really pleased with how the players have trained. Our time is quite limited because our first match is on Saturday so we have to be smart and not just train on field, but off field too,” continued Lancaster. “We will train once tomorrow ahead of our squad announcement, which I expect to be a good mix and a team that will put in a competent performance on Saturday.”
“I haven’t been able to see much of Denver yet and obviously we are concentrating on this weekend but it has a fantastic reputation and I’m looking forward to seeing more as the weeks go on," Lancaster said.
After touching down from Buenos Aires just yesterday, Argentina twice battled the wind and rain at Infinity Park to fine-tune for the weekend.
“We’re looking forward to our match against England on Saturday and this is the first of two training sessions for us today,” said Argentina Jaguars manager Franco Rossi. “I’m really happy with the facilities and the people we’ve met here so far.”
The final team to join the USA in the Chruchill Cup is Ireland “A”. While the squad has yet to be named, what is known is that Ireland Head Coach, Declan Kidney, and his team of coaches remained in America. The Ireland “A” squad, while not the same, will have some resemblance to the one the Eagles played against this past weekend.
Following the event kick off on Saturday, Infinity Park, Glendale—the first municipally-owned rugby-specific stadium in North America—will showcase two more days of doubleheader pool matches on June 10 and 14.
These pool stages will be followed by a triple header finals day at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, home of Colorado Rapids Major League Soccer side, on June 21.
Churchill Cup 2009
Fixtures(kick off times local)
Saturday June 6
Infinity Park, Glendale
England Saxons vs. Argentina Jaguars(2:15pm)
Canada vs. Georgia(4:30pm)
Wednesday June 10
Infinity Park, Glendale
Canada vs. Ireland A(4:30pm)
USA vs. Argentina Jaguars(7pm)
Sunday June 14
Infinity Park, Glendale
USA vs. England Saxons(1pm)
Georgia vs. Ireland A(3:30pm)
Sunday June 21
Dick’s Sporting Goods Park
Churchill Cup finals(12:05pm, 2:30pm, 4:45pm