Former Wallabies flanker George Smith has retired from rugby, ending a career notable for its quality and longevity.
Argentina B clinched its seventh Americas championship, Georgia remain unbeaten in European competition, Fiji Warriors had another win in the Pacific Challenge, and Bermuda upset Jamaica in the Americas North semi-finals.
Yes indeed, with 102 nations affiliated to World Rugby, and a further 17 associate members, there is a lot more to world rugby these days than the Six Nations, Rugby Championship and their corresponding club competitions.
Argentina crushed wooden-spooners Chile 85-10 in Santiago on March 9 to win back the trophy from previous holders the USA, who finished third after a shock 32-25 loss to Uruguay the previous weekend. Los Teros came second, having also accounted for Canada, Brazil and Chile.
But the talk of the competition was the Brazilian scrum, which continues to cause all kinds of problems for opponents, notably the Maori All Blacks during last November’s 35-3 loss.
They maintained a 90 per cent success rate with their scrummaging and this certainly laid the basis for their 18-10 home win over Canada.
In Europe, Georgia again proved they are much too good for ENC competition, blitzing bottom-placed Germany 52-3 on March 10. The Lelos have already overtaken Romania as the most successful team in the championship with 11 titles.
Romania themselves held on for a 22-20 win over visiting Russia, who conceded two yellow cards and a penalty try but nonetheless had a chance to tie the match with a late conversion attempt, which went wide.
Spain are in second place after thumping Belgium 47-9 in Madrid, exacting sweet revenge for last year’s controversial loss, which had also doubled as a World Cup qualifier.
This weekend’s final round sees Georgia, Belgium and Spain visit Russia, Belgium and Germany, respectively.
Meanwhile, hosts Fiji stormed to a 60-24 win over Japan Juniors in Suva on March 12 to secure their ninth Pacific Challenge title, and fourth in succession. Both teams had already won their opening encounters.
In Tuesday’s other fixture, Tonga A held on for a 13-12 win over their Samoan counterparts.
Elsewhere, Bermuda cruised to an upset 43-14 home win over Jamaica, a team previously ranked several places ahead of them by World Rugby in 64th spot. They will face the winner of Guyana and Guadeloupe in the final.
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, a Barbados XV warmed up for their nation’s coming test match against Martinique with a couple of handy wins over visiting Boston University.
Regional competition has yet to begin in Asia, but it seems Malaysia will again join Hong Kong and South Korea in the top division, to be played in June. Japan are not involved.
The lower-division tournaments will apparently take place in April and May, with China, India, Pakistan and Mongolia among those expected to participate. Iran has not been named, mysteriously.
The African championships take place in July this year and feature an expanded format divided into two groups. Defending champions Namibia are in Pool A with Tunisia, Zimbabwe and newly promoted Zambia, while Kenya, Uganda, Algeria and Morocco make up Pool B.
Algeria are a rapidly rising team in African rugby, albeit with a largely French-based squad, and last year defeated Zambia in the second division final.
Morocco were supposed to have been relegated, only expansion was later announced by outgoing Rugby Africa chairman Abdelaziz Bougja – himself a Moroccan!
Bougia, who is also believed to have cast Africa’s vote for 2023 World Cup host in favour of France rather than South Africa, somewhat controversially, has been replaced by Tunisia’s Khaled Babbou.
The continent’s most populous nation, Nigeria, will take part in this year’s second division alongside Ghana, Madagascar and Botswana. They have also agreed to play an annual home and away ‘President’s XVs’ series with neighbouring Ghana.
That’s a wrap for the international scene this week, though in North American club competition, MLR expansion team New York continued to impress with a 47-21 win against Utah in the snow last weekend, their fourth win in five games. Utah’s Warriors, incidentally, have just signed Brazilian flanker Arthur Bergo.
New Orleans Gold – also with four wins – top the table, followed by the defending champion Seattle Seawolves and the San Diego Legion, both on three wins and two losses.
Toronto Arrows, the other expansion team and solitary Canadian entry, sit mid-table with a 3-3 record. They recovered from a 20-3 deficit to defeat the Legion 27-20 in their last encounter. Austin Elite are rock bottom without a win.