After beating Venezuela 35-10 in the final of the Sudamerica Rugby B Championship, Los Tucanes will advance to face Rugby Americas North champions Mexico in rugby-mad Medellin on Saturday 29 October in the next stage of the region's Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification process.
The winner of that game will then play Paraguay with a place in the Sudamerica A Championship, and the opportunity to continue even further on the road to Japan 2019, at stake.
Lower-ranked Venezuela made their territorial advantage count to hold a deserved 10-3 lead at the half-hour mark in the final against Colombia, tireless flanker Luis Lopez touching down twice either side of a penalty from Colombian centre José Manuel Diosa.
“This was a final and we didn’t expect less from the Venezuelans,” said Colombia’s outstanding captain Sebastián Mejía, an ever-present in this competition since 2009.
However, Colombia finished the half strongly and when Mejía followed hooker Manuel Correa over the whitewash, for a try which Diosa converted, and prop Javier Pemberthy dotted down, Los Tucanes led 20-10 at half-time.
As Venezuela visibly began to tire, Colombia continued to hold all the momentum in the second half, and a second try from Correa, converted by Diosa, put them 27-10 ahead.
Diosa added three points from a penalty before winger Camilo David rounded off the scoring with his side’s fifth try.
Losing fly-half Roberto Schaefer rued his side’s inability to play for the full 80 minutes but was proud of the performance. “We played very well, especially in the first half when we were able to follow the devised game plan. We knew we had to minimise our mistakes, and the scoreline suffered when we erred at a couple of key moments.
“We’ve been together as a team for a long time and we would have loved to win, but Colombia is a great opponent and over the years we’ve built a healthy rivalry with them.”
Venezuela’s defeat means they will drop one place in the World Rugby Rankings to 64th, with Israel the beneficiaries, once they are updated at 12 noon on Monday.
KEEPING THE DREAM ALIVE
Having acknowledged the stiff challenge presented by the Venezuelans, Mejía reflected on a victory that will take them up five places to 42nd in the rankings.
“We are a good team that is very hungry for success. For six years we have worked hard every day to be the best that we can be,” said Mejía.
“We want to beat Mexico and Paraguay and have the opportunity to test ourselves against the best in South America. Winning the tournament for a third time is great because it has been a long-time dream, and it keeps us on the Rugby World Cup road.”
The strong number eight concluded: “We played one game at a time so we must now only focus on what lies ahead and that is playing against the Serpientes.”
Finals day at the Niño Héroe Manuel Bonilla Stadium opened with a comprehensive 65-5 win for hosts Peru against Ecuador.
From a rankings perspective, Peru’s 41-14 loss to Colombia earlier in the week cost them more rating points than they gained for beating Venezuela, and as a result they will fall below India, Barbados and Serbia into 79th place.
Peru scored nine tries and a penalty try against an Ecuadorian side that managed a consolation score seven minutes from time. Hooker Luis Tejeda had a great game, scoring a hat-trick in a first half that finished 43-0 in Peru’s favour.
TWO FROM TWO FOR HUNGARY
In Europe, the RWC 2019 qualification process is also in full swing with Saturday’s games in Rugby Europe's Conference 2 North and South doubling up as qualifiers.
Hungary made it two wins from two with a 25-13 victory over Denmark to lead the early-season table in 2 North. As an added bonus, Hungary will climb above Thailand and Pakistan to 80th place in the rankings.
2 North rivals Norway kicked off their campaign with a 48-31 win over the lower-ranked Finland, picking up 0.59 of a rating point and a one-place rise to 89th in the process. A two-place fall means Denmark will sit immediately below them in 90th.
In 2 South, Australia recovered from a 15-9 half-time deficit against Bosnia & Herzegovina to win 29-22 in Vienna. Scrum-half Maximilian Navas kicked five penalties and converted both of Austria’s second-half tries in a victory that will lift them up to 85th in the rankings. Guam and Nigeria profit from Bosnia & Herzegovina’s fall from 73rd to 75th place.