Uruguay host Brazil men on Saturday in the South American Four Nations tournament

Brazil rugby begin journey to World Cup qualification

When the big opportunity came, the Brazilian men’s team jumped at it.

“This South American Four Nations tournament is the unique opportunity of the year to do what we love to do – play rugby,” says Brazil centre Moisés Duque, ahead of the continental competition kicking off this week.

As he explains: “It is also a privileged opportunity to be here in Uruguay, to have this experience before we all battle for a place at the Rugby World Cup.”

It is no secret that Brazil has endured torrid times throughout the coronavirus crisis. Rugby-wise, their own national championship was wiped out while the game across South America was hit, but this tournament has offered a ray of light.

Duque explains: “When the South American championship (Four Nations) was confirmed, it changed a lot of our minds.

“In Brazilian society, we’re passing through a really dangerous time. The pandemic in Brazil has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. But here in Uruguay, they’ve controlled it very well – similar to New Zealand. So when they confirmed the tournament, all of our players and staff started to think differently, to see a huge chance to actually play rugby this year.

Brazil rugby

Olympic flame: Duque facing the US at Rio 2016 (Getty Images)

“In hard times, it’s easy to lose your mind, to lose your way. And now we’ve won our first game against the pandemic and we’re ready to restart our rugby life!”

It’s a strange change-up, going from the worries of home to the relative calm of Montevideo. But having arrived in Uruguay and complied with all the tests and protocols, they will be in town until 26 October. There is a lot of rugby to throw themselves into now.

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Duque explains that this return to the game affords the Brazilians a chance to try some things out. It’s time to have some fun. Ultimately, though, from next year the big-picture plan is to take out rivals Uruguay and Chile, before targeting the USA and Canada.

In order to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2023, they have to battle these recognised powers. They are certainly setting their sights high.

Shorter-term, the plan is to have all of their ducks in a row for the beginning of Super Liga Americana de Rugby (SLAR) – the new professional club competition that will hopefully zigzag across the continent in 2021, with six sides in major cities around South America. Brazil will have the Corinthians team, based in the São Paulo region.

What makes that new club so exciting, Duque adds, is that Corinthians can help bring through some exciting young stars of their national game. In Uruguay, Brazil have a crop of talents who played in the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2019 (Brazil hosted the event). That competition, we are told, was particularly significant.

“We have ten guys who had played this tournament,” Duque says. “That’s very important to a country who want to enter the Rugby World Cup. You have to have young guys with some international experience. That we have now.

Brazil rugby

In their sights: Can Brazil overcome Canada in coming years? (Getty Images)

“The Olympic Games in 2016 brought to Brazilian rugby structure. From that beginning, things were working better in Brazil (for rugby). With the World Trophy, it brings young experience and now young guys come into our main group at a high level, from playing big rugby countries with a tradition. So now it’s structure and young experience.”

What Duque is alluding to is that having the men’s and women’s Olympic sevens in the country helped capture imaginations, increase funding and get long-term plans in place, but the involvement of teenage stars in a major 15s tournament was as just as much of a boost for them.

For Duque, the steps are easy to see – have a go in Uruguay, then focus on maintaining high-performance standards both with Corinthians and on the national stage. Playing better-ranked sides more often helps, but he sees a lot of potential in his vast nation too. It just takes a huge amount of hard work to begin realising that.

The ambitions are lofty. The words, positive. For now, though, they are simply excited to take on XVs from Uruguay, Argentina and Chile over the next nine days.

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