Paraguay and Venezuela off to winning starts
The South America phase of the Rugby World Cup 2015 qualification process kicked off in Valencia on Sunday with hosts Venezuela and favourites Paraguay recording victories on day one of the South American B Championship.
Paraguay, relegated from the elite level in 2011, were first up at the Estadio Arístides Pineda and never looked in any danger against Colombia, running out 54-17 winners. Hosts Venezuela then battled past Peru 28-17.
In hot and humid conditions at the University of Carabobo, Colombia competed well in the opening exchanges with their physical forwards taking the game to the Paraguayan team, but once things settled down the difference in class was soon evident.
Paraguay were quicker in both speed and thought than the Toucans and their determination to keep the ball alive soon reaped rewards, two quick tries, both converted, opening up a 14-0 lead.
The heavier Colombian pack found both the heat and the pace of their opponents too much to handle and a yellow card for indiscipline compounded their difficulties and three more tries, all converted, made it 35-0 at the break.
Colombia replaced their entire front row at half time and began the second half brightly, scoring a superb breakaway try from full back Carlos Mario Lopez. But the pattern of the first half soon returned with three Paraguayan scores extending their lead to 54-5 with 20 minutes remaining.
Things began to look ominous for Colombia as they started dropping off tackles in the energy sapping conditions, but Paraguay made a number of substitutions after the hour mark and this played a part in Colombia’s spirited final quarter where they scored two fine tries.
The passionate home crowd were then able to cheer their team to victory in a tight tussle with Peru, who were ranked 10 places below their hosts in the IRB World Rankings going into this encounter.
Peru took the lead with an early penalty but it was Venezuela that scored the first try through centre Carlos Barboza, who was by some distance the classiest player on the pitch.
The match was a far from fluent affair with both sides making a number of unforced errors. A second penalty restored the lead for Peru but increasingly it was the home side who demonstrated more attacking intent and they were rewarded for their adventure with a second try from Barboza.
Peru squandered some good possession, twice opting for hopeful drop goals when they would have been better served retaining the ball. They did add a third penalty but another try from Venezuela just before the break was due reward for their attacking mindset as they went in 15-9 ahead at half time.
However the second half began badly for Venezuela with indiscipline handing Peru the field position from which they powered over with a driving maul. They followed this up with a penalty to edge ahead 17-15 and at this stage seemed the most likely winners.
Venezuela, though, regrouped and a 30-metre rolling maul set up a fine try in the corner for wing Daniel Jaramillo. They used the same tactic shortly afterwards, with the same result, the try this time coming in the other corner.
There was still time for a drop goal to complete the 28-17 victory and set up a meeting on Wednesday with Colombia at 16:00 local time. The earlier match that day will see Paraguay tackle Peru. The tournament then concludes on Saturday.
The South American B Championship winner will then face a one-off match with Caribbean champions Bermuda on 29 September, hosted by the country with the highest IRB World Ranking. The winner of this will then face Brazil, the bottom side this year’s South American Championship, in another one-off match on 29 October.
Running alongside the CONSUR B tournament is the region’s second tier age grade championship with Brazil making an impressive start by overwhelming Peru 83-3 and Venezuela edging Colombia 12-8 on Saturday.