Frankie Deges provides the lowdown on the new professional league in South America

Superliga Americana de Rugby 2021 ready for kick-off

As high-performance tournaments go, Superliga Americana de Rugby (SLAR) – South America’s professional league – is a big one.

Given the success stories of Brazil, who have risen from the late 40s to the low 20s in the world rankings over five years, and Uruguay, whose win against Fiji in Kamaishi lit up Rugby World Cup 2019, SLAR promises good action.

Starting on Tuesday 16 March and running until 15 May, six franchises representing the top nations in Sudamérica Rugby – one of World Rugby’s six regional associations – will fight for possession of the bespoke SLAR Trophy.

Jaguares XV (Argentina), Cobras XV (Brazil), Selknam (Chile), Cafeteros Pro (Colombia), Olimpia Lions (Paraguay) and Peñarol (Uruguay) are the professional teams involved.

With Covid-19 still a big issue in the region, the first five rounds will be played in Santiago and Valparaíso, Chile, with the last five rounds, semi-finals and final to be played at the Estadio Charrúa in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Five teams are already in a strict sanitary bubble in Chile. Cobras XV are still waiting for a green light to fly across the Andes and will travel as soon as they are certain of their health status. They miss their opening game, which will be rescheduled.

Following the rounds in Chile, the six teams, referees and tournament staff will then fly together on a chartered plane to Uruguay for the second half of the tournament.

This will be the second season of the tournament, although the first was cancelled after only three games last March once the pandemic hit.

Jaguares XV are the team to beat

Having missed out on the various reincarnations of Super Rugby and seen most of their top players move overseas, Jaguares XV will be the team to beat, representing the strongest rugby nation in the neighbourhood.

They are coached by former Sale lock Ignacio Fernández Lobbe and have in scrum-half Felipe Ezcurra an experienced captain with ten caps to his name.

Argentina centre Santiago Chocobares, who missed out on a contract with Auckland Blues after failing to gain an entry visa to New Zealand due to Covid-19 sanctions, will be their top player.

The Argentine presence in the tournament will be huge – all six coaches hail from Puma-land. Three are former assistant coaches to Sudamérica Rugby’s HP manager Daniel Hourcade in Emiliano Bergamaschi (Cobras XV), Raúl Pérez (Olimpia Lions) and Pablo Bouza (Peñarol).

Pumas Sevens veteran Nicolás Bruzzone is in charge of Selknam while Rodolfo Ambrosio, who played for Italy in the first-ever Rugby World Cup game in 1987 and ran HP for the Argentina union before taking Brazil to unknown heights, will try to work similar wonders with the inexperienced Colombians.

Cafeteros Pro is new to the round-robin tournament and to this level of rugby. They, as well as the Paraguayans, worked hard in the draft put in place – they secured half of their squad from Argentina.

Having started working with the goal of having a high-performance tournament in 2018, Hourcade has been keen to ensure that every team is competitive. Jaguares XV are, of course, the team to beat, but both Chile and Uruguay have most of the national XVs players in their squads.

With World Cup qualifiers due to start soon after the end of SLAR, it is an incredible opportunity to start building towards that push for places at France 2023.

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