When Brazil and Paraguay kick off this Saturday, 26 June, the road to Rugby World Cup 2023 in the Americas will begin. For the South American teams, with Argentina already qualified, there is a clear opportunity to have up to three representatives on rugby's biggest stage.
Different to previous qualifying roads, this time Rugby Americas North representatives – only Canada and USA have entered the race for 2023 – won’t have a direct spot; instead, the Americas 1 and 2 spots will be decided by continental teams from both sides of the Equator.
Brazil's Tupis and Paraguay's Yacarés, and a week later Chile and Colombia, will play each other for the opportunity to advance to a triangular tournament in Montevideo, Uruguay, with the host nation.
While Cannucks and Eagles will decide their regional ranking, the tournament at the Charrúa Stadium will decide a champion that will play against the top team from the north.
That series between the top two sides from north and south, scheduled for the first two weekends of October, will determine the Americas 1 qualifier that will play in Pool A with hosts France, New Zealand, Italy and Africa 1.
The team finishing in second place in the tournament will play the loser of the series between Canada and USA at a date to be determined. The winner of that fixture will become Americas 2, joining Pool D in France, with both the finalists and hosts of RWC 2019, England and Japan, as well as Los Pumas and Oceania 1.
For the loser, there will be another opportunity to qualify in the form of a final qualifying tournament. That team will play in Pool C with Wales, Australia, Fiji and Europe 1.
This road to the Rugby World Cup will be the first time that players from South America have been involved in a regional, professional competition, having recently completed the second edition of the Superliga Americana de Rugby – the first was cancelled when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the region.
The five nations involved in this qualifying process for France 2023 entered franchises into SLAR, and every match on the road to RWC 2023 is expected to be highly competitive.
Os Tupis, the Brazilian national team, will be coached by former test full-back Fernando Portugal, and will have 25 players that were involved in Cobras Brasil XV in SLAR. This experience will be of huge help in a game that will truly showcase where Brazilian rugby is currently positioned, more so after a hard tournament.
Their opponents, the Paraguay Yacarés, coached by former Puma assistant coach Raúl Pérez, travelled to Sao José dos Campos, venue of the game on Saturday, with 11 players that grew immensely in a professional environment with Olimpia Lions, a surprise semi-finalist in SLAR. They’ve been training five times a week in the last few weeks ahead of this crucial game.
Up to us
Mateo Rodríguez, the young loose forward that missed an opportunity to play in his country’s franchise, knows how important stakes are.
“We know that with commitment things will happen. The experience my teammates got in SLAR and the goodwill that was generated in Paraguay when Olimpia Lions made it to the semis help us realise that with commitment and responsibility, passion and respect for each other and the country, it is a good starting point for Paraguayan rugby. It is up to us.
“This is beyond the actual final score in this game.”
Brazil will be playing at home at the Martins Pereira Stadium, venue for the last World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2019, yet will not have fans to support them at the ground.
The team has nonetheless prepared for the occasion.
“We’ve been training very hard,” said prop Caique Silve. “We’ve had squad games and they were brutal, such is the competition to be in the starting 15. Loyal, but very tough games."
Without wanting to think beyond the first game at this stage, he added: “Our head is on Paraguay, who we know will bring a physical game to us, as they showed in SLAR.”
His captain Felipe Sancery, who would love to return to France, where he grew up, to play in RWC 2023, added that “the team is very focused and in no way underestimating what we have ahead.
“We have to take any advantage available, and playing at home, even with no fans at the ground, is one. We are only thinking on taking one step at a time, game-to-game.”
Realising the dream of accompanying Argentina, who have played in every Rugby World Cup since 1987, starts for four teams over the next couple of weeks.
Uruguay, on the other hand, will join at a later stage; Los Teros have been to four of the nine Rugby World Cups and are no strangers to the sport's greatest stage. Chances are now open for the five teams to achieve similar familiarity.
Photo: Brasil Rugby