Rugby League putting down roots in South America

9th October 2017, 11:54

An up-date on progress courtesy of Robert Burgin

The rugby league community is just weeks away from a tournament which will double the number of world-ranked nations in Latin America.

At the completion of the Latin American Rugby League Championships on November 17-18 in Chile, there will be six Latino countries to have played under RLIF Test conditions.

Already Chile, El Salvador and Uruguay appear on the world rankings table.

They are set to be joined after the Chilean tournament by Argentina, Mexico and Colombia, all of which have domestic activity, but are yet to play 13-a-side internationals under limited interchange.

A good-natured, but intense, rivalry is brewing between neighbouring Chile and Argentina in particular for supremacy in the region.

Chile, which will host the four-way tournament in the southern city of Los Angeles, has the largest domestic foothold in Latin America and a strong base of players with experience playing in Australia.

It is currently ranked 35th in the world after a 20-all draw with Thailand on September 30 and has been the best-performed Latin American nation on a global scale to date.

Argentina has much less experience in the 13-man game, but more than 100,000 registered rugby union players who bring a strong tactical and physical base with them when transferring across codes.

At the 2016 Primer Torneo Sudamericano nine-a-side tournament in Miramar, Argentina, both Chile and Argentina advanced through the qualification stages unbeaten from three games.

In the final, Argentina struck a decisive blow by defeating Chile 16-0, despite the Chileans having two Australian-based heritage players travel over to assist their cause.

That result leaves a big question mark over who will enter this year’s championships as favourite.

Approximately 90 per cent of players at the looming tournament will be domestic-based players, with only a handful of heritage players from other nations trekking to Los Angeles.

Mexico and Colombia will enter the event as unknown commodities, having built their playing base in isolation.

Mexico actually boasts the longest-running domestic competition in Latin America, but has been starved of international opposition until now.

Sending its players to Chile is both an expensive and time-consuming exercise, a 7000km journey that takes 11 hours by commercial flight.

Support for them has come from the volunteer group Latin Heat Rugby League, which promotes rugby league to all 24 nationalities across Latin America, who are using money from sponsors and a crowdfunding campaign to assist the Mexicans. To pledge support please click here

Colombia, like Argentina, has a very strong rugby union influence in its core group, primarily of players based out of Bogota and Medellin.

Snippets of training footage posted by both teams has assured they will be high on physicality.

Mexico will be led by man mountain Ruben Munguia, one of those who volunteered to help his countrymen in the aftermath of the recent earthquake.

Meanwhile Colombia will be directed by Nicolas Perico Daza, a skilful ball-player who spent a year playing in Australia with the Latin Heat organisation before returning home to spark interest in his homeland.

Colombia is responsible for one of the highest foreign student populations in Australia, and Perico Daza is the latest in a line of Colombians who have returned home after learning the fundamentals abroad.

The tournament draw on November 17-18 will see Argentina play Colombia in one side of the draw, while Chile faces Mexico.

The winners will face-off for the title as champions, while the losers of the qualification games will play a bronze medal match.

The Latin American Championships form part of a wider exercise that extends beyond the fixtures themselves.

A number of coaching and refereeing clinics and school visits will be held in Chile and Argentina around the tournament dates, while several ‘clubhouses’ will screen the Rugby League World Cup, broadcast footage permitting.

Delegates from a handful of other Latin American nations will also be in attendance to learn more about the sport and build relationships with officials from nearby countries, with the view to expanding participation.