Exciting contest expected in South America
By Frankie Deges
The 35th CONSUR South American Championship kicks off on Saturday in Chile and Uruguay, marking a new opportunity for three exciting teams to advance in their quest for a place at Rugby World Cup 2015.
The search for the regional champion will include Argentina, already qualified for rugby’s showcase event, and will confirm the progress of one of the IRB regions with the biggest growth.
With the 2016 Olympic Games to be played in Rio de Janeiro, and very good programmes in almost every country, the profile of rugby in South America has escalated and the standard of the Game grown.
As never before, the three teams vying to advance to the Americas 2 play-off against either Canada or USA on the road to England 2015, have even chances.
The passion of the teams will be there for everyone to watch and enjoy, and big crowds are expected both in Temuco – where Chile will host Brazil – and the Charrúa Stadium in the leafy district of Parque Rivera in the northern suburbs of Montevideo where the other five matches will be played.
Uruguay leads the way in the pursuit of Rugby World Cup dream, having played in the 1999 and 2003 tournaments. Having recently secured their new home, with a stadium and high performance centre, Los Teros are working under coach Pablo Lemoine full of hope.
“I know how important it is for our rugby to qualify for the Rugby World Cup, but I also understand that we are a few steps away and need to only focus on what lies ahead of us,” said the 49-cap former Test prop, a veteran of two World Cups and two failed qualifying campaigns.
The land of Los Teros
“The Uruguayan Rugby Union is working very proactively, ensuring players have the best possible preparation. Having our own house is very important for us on many levels.”
Earlier this year, the URU signed a 10-year shared lease of the Charrúa Stadium and have set up their Union offices, High Performance Centre and training facility there. With a capacity of 14,000, the big promotional campaign welcomes everybody to the “Tierra de Los Teros” – the land of Los Teros.
“Our team has been working very hard and understands the importance of playing at home, a ground we know well and that we hope will become our fortress,” added Lemoine.
“Uruguay will always maintain their core values of forward play, but have some very good backs that can run.” A handful of them are also expected to play at Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow in June.
Uruguay will play against Argentina in an opening round that will be completed some 900 miles west, in a new Test venue in Temuco, a landlocked city of 250,000 inhabitants in the south of Chile that has already seen the arrival of both teams and is bracing itself for a big game at the German Becker Stadium.
“Not playing in Santiago, our normal home, is important for us as a team,” admitted new captain Rodrigo Tobar. “We will be able to have a lot of support from an area where Test rugby hasn’t been played before.
“This Championship is part of a four-year process for us and we are confident, yet acknowledging we can’t underestimate Brazil’s growth. This is a very exciting tournament, probably the most evenly matched South American Championship ever.”
Building for the future
Uruguay has had the upper hand over Los Cóndores for more than 20 tournaments, yet in 2011 the Chileans took second place, beating Los Teros 21-18. “Last year we lost by one, 26-27,” recalled Tobar, one exam away from becoming a lawyer. “There isn’t much between both teams.”
Brazilian rugby, on the back of their ambition and with a proactive Confederaçao Brasilera de Rugby, have been taking positive steps to ensure they are competitive. This RWC qualifying process might come a bit early, but they are not going to be pushed around.
Daniel Danielewicz, the experienced Tupis captain and hooker, has proven his passion time and again. He kissed his three-day old daughter Cleo goodbye to embark on a new rugby adventure. “Our fitness levels are the best ever, we’ve had great coaching from the Crusaders franchise (coaching consultants for the past year) and are very motivated.
“This tournament is very hard. We all know what it will take to beat Chile and Uruguay and then go on to play in the Americas if we were to advance. We have never been this ready.”
Argentina has won this tournament 33 times, Uruguay winning in 1981 when Argentina declined to participate. This year’s team will be very young, with six players selected to play in the IRB Junior World Championship in June and many others who have played in previous editions of the premier age grade tournament.
Coach Martín Gaitán welcomes the South American Championship “as an opportunity for more players to raise their hands and be noted. We have a very busy international schedule this year and we need many a big pool of players. Those in this tournament have a great opportunity to impress the selectors.”
One country will be moving forward in their Rugby World Cup dream. For the other two, it will be about the work done and the growth that will allow them to look with hope into the future.
Saturday 27 April
Chile v Brazil – Temuco (RWC 2015 qualifier)
Uruguay v Argentina – Montevideo
Wednesday 1 May
Chile v Argentina – Montevideo
Uruguay v Brazil – Montevideo (RWC 2015 qualifier)
Saturday 4 May
Argentina v Brazil – Montevideo
Uruguay v Chile – Montevideo (RWC 2015 qualifier)