With nine countries competing – Los Pumas have already qualified and are in Dubai this weekend playing in the opening tournament of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series – there are three clear candidates to reach the final and the coveted tickets to Cape Town, playing 9-11 September next year.
Chile, boasting a strong sevens programme, Brazil, with their strongest squad yet, many of whom were in Stellenbosch playing for Os Tupis last weekend, and Uruguay will certainly be gunning for the spots.
The teams have been divided into three pools of three, with Brazil spearheading Pool A alongside Guatemala and Panama. Pool B features Chile, Peru and El Salvador, with Uruguay, Costa Rica and Nicaragua comprising Pool C.
Action will start at 09:00 local time (15:00 GMT) when Guatemala and Panama open proceedings ahead of an action-packed weekend.
After the completion of pool play, teams will be re-ranked and a second round of pool games will be played to decide the four semifinalists.
The winners will secure their tickets to South Africa’s Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022.
“Being able to have an international tournament of this importance is very big for rugby in Costa Rica and Central America,” said Ramón Cole de Temple, President of the Federación de Rugby de Costa Rica.
“This is the first time two spots are available for Rugby World Cup Sevens, which means there is a big goal for teams from all the regions.”
Brimming with pride, the former international was hoping that the crowds would come to the Estadio Nacional. “We have a limited capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions, but hopefully, we will have a big crowd enjoying rugby at its highest standard, promoting the game.”
Chile aiming for third
Having played in Rugby World Cup Sevens 2001 and having coached the team in San Francisco in 2018, Edmundo Olfos hopes to make it to his third tournament.
“We have selected a team with a handful of sevens-focused players, in captain Joaquín Huici, Julio Blanc (both 27) and veteran Felipe Brangier, 33. Lucas Avelli, who played in Chile’s professional franchise Selknam, is returning to the game after injury and also included is Diego Warnken, who had a great tournament in the recent World Rugby Americas Pacific Challenge.
“We have a blend of experience and youth,” said Olfos in conversation with World Rugby. “When we played in Vancouver and Edmonton we had to select from those who had the right vaccinations to enter Canada. We struggled.”
Yet, with a sevens programme, they do have an edge. “It has given us a sevens culture that we didn’t have before.”
Qualifying for next year’s World Cup would add to the general good feeling in Chilean rugby. Los Cóndores, having advanced in their Rugby World Cup 2023 pathway after beating Canada in the qualifying series, beat Russia in Sochi last week.
“The goal is to qualify. It would mean we can continue having the support of the Olympic Committee, it would give us a focus for the next 10 months. And after that, we have the Pan American Games in Santiago in 2023.”
Brazil and Uruguay bring big names
With experienced players both in 15s and sevens, Brazil has selected a team including the experienced Sancery twins, Felipe and Daniel, French-born Laurent Bourda-Couhet, and Lucas Tranquez.
Uruguay has also named a team which includes the ten-season sevens team veteran Guillermo Lietjenstein alongside up-and-coming players such as Eugenio Plottier, Diego Ardao, Tomás Etcheverry and Mateo Viñals, who shone in the recent American Pacific Challenge.
Costa Rica have brought home their two overseas players Andrés Ortíz and Byron Monge, both in France’s Fédérale 2 club Saint Sulpice la Pointe.
“Playing rugby at the Estadio Nacional will be an historic occasion – something that gives us huge pride and exposure,” said Ortíz. “We are a soccer-mad country and that our sport can set foot in this stadium will be a turning point, showing the government that rugby can organise good events. It will open doors.”
The whole tournament, kicking off on Saturday, 27 November at 09:00 local time (15:00 GMT) and 09:30 local time (15:30 GMT) on Sunday, 28 November, will be live in Sudamérica Rugby’s App available from Google Play and/or the App Store, and on Sudamérica Rugby’s YouTube Channel