The Colombian Tucanes have an incredible 2022 ahead of them. It begins in February against Spain A en route to Dubai, where they will play for the final available ticket to Rugby World Cup 2021 and will then continue with their appearance at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 in Cape Town in September.
A key challenge will be the Final Qualifying Tournament, to be played at The Sevens Stadium in Dubai on 19 and 25 February.
Colombia were scheduled to play Scotland first in Dubai, but due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Samoa and Hong Kong – who had been expected to face Kazakhstan in a pre-tournament qualifier – have withdrawn.
As such, Colombia now play Kazakhstan for the right to face Scotland – seeded first as the highest competing team in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini as of 20 December, 2021 – in the final.
The winner of that final match will take their place in Pool A at RWC 2021, joining hosts New Zealand, Australia and Wales.
Las Tucanes will face a less experienced team than those in Kazakhstan, but one that will nonetheless pose a challenge.
Colombia reached this stage after beating Brazil on the South American road to qualification and then Kenya in Nairobi. Having beaten the Brazilians in an earlier international, they will start their tour unbeaten at international level.
The trip to Dubai will include a stop in Madrid where they will play against Spain’s second XV, an experience that will allow coach Raúl Vesga to measure the team against a highly competent opponent.
“The game in Madrid will give us a clearer idea of where we are,” said Vesga, in conversation with World Rugby.
Thirty players began working together in Medellín on 17 January. The women worked on reaching physical targets and individual technical goals for positioning skills during their summer holidays. They will then enter a secure bubble the week before travelling, on 1 February.
“Our men’s team was affected by COVID-19 when they arrived in Chile last year and had to cancel their RWC 2023 qualifying game,” recalled Vesga of the plight of Los Tucanes who did not get to play on the road to France 2023. “We are taking no chances.”
Leidy Soto, the new captain
Colombia will also have a new captain with centre-cum-winger Leidy Soto taking over the coveted position.
An original ‘Unstoppable’ in World Rugby’s global ‘Try and Stop Us’ campaign, Soto will replace Nicole Acevedo, who last year announced her retirement from the national team.
Soto was a youth Olympian in 2018 and has since become a member of both the sevens and 15s national teams.
"She is a very humble player who became a benchmark for women's rugby in Colombia. I'm very happy for her, I really want to support her and trust her," added Vesga about her new captain.
Regarding the departure of 2016 Olympian Acevedo, the team loses “a player who gave the group leadership, always motivating them to face any challenge, to trust what they have, to generate confidence in the players. Thanks to her, they believed it and that is why we have had good results."
Missing their Richie McCaw
“She was like our Richie McCaw, always leading the team forward. Obviously, she was an important player in the team’s structure,” said the national coach.
Playing Kazakhstan, a team that has played in six of the eight Rugby World Cups is uncharted territory for Colombia.
Having missed the 2017 tournament in Ireland, they will be keen to set the record straight.
Colombia’s women have never faced a challenge this big. They have worked hard on their defence, which they expect to play a big part.
Having done their homework in terms of analysing the Scots, they will need to readjust for their new opponents.
“We believe that it could be the formula; we have done a lot of work in this area,” Vesga said.
“The game is going to be based on what we can do well and what we have improved on from our last game against Kenya.”
Beating Kazakhstan won’t be easy at this stage of Las Tucanes’ development, though.
“We’ve got our sights on the next World Cup, not the short term. The warrior spirit our team has, has made the difference previously and allowed us to achieve good results
“More than beating Kazakhstan, we believe we can have a great game against them,” concluded Vesga.