It seems that more and more people are discovering the sheer joy of the ruck and maul and one region where there is an increasing interest and participation in Rugby is Central and South America.
Although Argentina, Chile and Uruguay have been the traditional devotees of Rugby, a growth in player, tournament and overall performance has been seen due to the wonderful development work by Unions and Rugby individuals across the region.
In Mexico, Rugby has been played since around 1930 with the arrival of British oil workers and now enjoys a strong following especially within the French communities in the country. The organizing body is the Federacion Mexicana de Rugby and the national XVs side is known as “Los Serpientes” or “The Snakes”.
With many clubs located in the Federal District and also Puebla (Aztecas Rugby Club), Cancun (Hammerheads) and Guadalajara (Diablos), a Major League Championship has been held since the early 2000’s. Rugby Sevens is also enjoying a boom in Mexico, suiting the Mexican style of quick-pace play.
Although funding is always an effort, Mexico has participated in Rugby World Cup Qualifying since 2011 and for the 2019 RWC they won their first three games against the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and The Bahamas. They then defeated Guyana but were knocked out by Colombia in the next match.
As for Colombia, you may be surprised to hear that there are 15,000 registered players there at present playing in 80 clubs across the country! The national team known as Los Tucanes played their first International game against Mexico in 1996 and has grown since those early years into a local Rugby powerhouse, winning the 2018 inaugural Americas Rugby Challenge, one tier down from the Americas Rugby Championship.
With the Colombian Women’s 7s national side qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro emphasizing Colombia’s strong presence in South American Rugby, one of the highlights for 2018 has to be 6 foot, 6 inch tall, 116 kg lock, Andres Zafra.
The 22-year old has been living in France for three years and playing Rugby in France’s Top 14 club, Agen. Zafra made history in early December as the first ever Colombian to score a try in the Top 14. Charging down an attempted box kick from opposing Castres halfback, close to the try line, Zafra sprinted and dived a foot from the dead ball line to score a historic try.
One of the oldest countries to have been introduced to Rugby in South America is Brazil. Rugby has been played since the 19th century there, brought by British immigrants to busy Brazilian ports.
A revitalized Rugby effort since the beginning of the 21st century has seen the level of play in Brazil grow both in XVs and 7s, with Brazil playing in the Americas Rugby Championship and beating the USA 24-23 in their first international win in 2016.
Hosting Rugby 7s in the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics in 2016 for the first time since 1924 has also exposed Rugby to a wider audience in the country and both the men’s and women’s Rugby 7s squad have played at the highest competitive international levels.
The national men’s XVs team is nicknamed the Tupis, for the indigenous tribe of the same name located in the country.
A highlight for the Tupis in 2018 was playing bravely against the touring Maori All Blacks in Sao Paolo in front of an enthusiastic and deafening home crowd. Although eventually going down 35-3, a most memorable moment was to be seen when the Tupis scrum absolutely demolished the Maori All Blacks pack to the thunderous accolades of spectators and Rugby fans across the globe.