Uruguay won the final match of the Sudamérica Rugby 3 Naciones – but only after a battling second-half performance in Montevideo on Sunday.
For the second match in a row, Los Teros found themselves trailing at half-time but, as they did against Chile, they kept their nerve and fought back to secure victory.
Two penalties from the boot of Moises Duque and a penalty try on the stroke of half-time saw Brazil go into the break 13-10 up.
But their hopes of a first win over Uruguay since 1964 were dashed when Uruguay winger Gastón Mieres scored twice in quick succession to add to his earlier try.
Mieres’ hat-trick score came just before the hour mark and was followed by a penalty try and a try for Juan Echeverría.
With two wins from two, Uruguay finish top of the Sudamérica Rugby 3 Naciones table and now go forward to play the winner of the Canada versus USA play-off for the Americas 1 spot at Rugby World Cup 2023.
Tonga overcome slow start
The qualification picture is also looking a bit clearer elsewhere with Tonga through to the Asia/Pacific 1 play-off and the result of the Zimbabwe versus Burkina Faso match in midweek confirming the draw for the Rugby Africa Cup 2022.
Having blooded a lot of new caps in their home-and-away Oceania 1 play-off against Samoa, Tonga were forced to field another much-changed line-up in Saturday’s play-off against Cook Islands in Pukekohe.
Six debutants took to the field for a fixture that Tonga had dominated in the past, winning their three previous encounters by an average score of 78-7.
However, the ‘Ikale Tahi did not have it all their own way in the early exchanges and only led 14-10 midway through the first half.
The Kukis got the first points on the board through the boot of scrum-half Tokahirere Sopoaga, whose older brother, former All Black Lima Sopoaga, was part of the team’s coaching staff.
Tonga hit back through winger Fifita Walter and centre Sam Vaka, James Faiva converting both tries.
But Kukis hooker Ben Tou brought his team right back in it with a try from a lineout drive, Sopoaga adding the extras to close the gap to just four points.
A couple of tries before the break settled the Tongans and they pulled away in the second half with captain Sonatane Takulua helping himself to a brace.
Sione Tuipolotu added his second for the match and test newcomer Paula Mahe joined him on the scoresheet to underline their second-half superiority.
“You just don’t know about these games and the first 10 minutes they put up a really, really good fight,” Tonga coach Toutai Kefu said. “We knew if we kept the pressure on, we could finally break them, and we thought probably just after half-time we could feel a little more comfortable.”
Tonga will now play the winner of the Asia Rugby Championship 2021 – either Hong Kong, Korea or Malaysia – in an Asia/Pacific 1 play-off for a place beside South Africa, Ireland and Scotland at Pool B in France.
The dream of a place at France 2023 will not end for the loser of the Asia/Pacific play-off as they will take their place in the Final Qualification Tournament which will determine the 20th and final qualifier.
Sables player enters record books
In Africa, Zimbabwe beat Burkina Faso 95-5 to confirm top spot in Pool D of the Rugby Africa Cup 2021.
The Sables scored 14 tries – one fewer than the record they set in the first match in winning 101-3 – and will now play the Ivory Coast in a straight knockout game in next year’s competition.
The winner of the Rugby Africa Cup 2022, which features eight teams, will go to France 2023 as Africa 1.
Burkina Faso will take on Namibia in their quarter-final tie.
Brandon Mudzekenyedzi became only the second Zimbabwean player to score four tries in a test match in Harare, equalling the record set by Jacques Leitao back in 1982.
Matthew McNab also helped himself to a hat-trick as the Sables cut loose against their lower-ranked opponents.
With results falling as expected, and the British and Irish Lions’ 22-17 first test win against South Africa not carrying any rating points, the World Rugby Men’s Rankings remain unaltered.