The dwindling difference between Chile’s domestic players and its Australian heritage players was the talking point of Day One of the Latin American Rugby League Championships.
Homegrown prop Piero Diaz matched Aussie-based countryman Jonathan Espinoza with a hat-trick as the Chileans defeated debutants Brasil 54-8 at Los Angeles in southern Chile.
The result puts Chile into the final against Argentina, who accounted for Colombia 36-4 on a historic afternoon for the code.
The Argentina versus Colombia game became the first official RLIF Test match played on Latin American soil, with players using limited interchange and international 13-a-side rules.
Brasil, Argentina and Colombia were all making full Test debut, though both Argentina and Colombia have previously played nine-a-side internationals.
The contrasting and extravagant styles of the teams was a beauty to behold, with audacious offloads, kick regathers and big hits making the first day of the tournament a spectacle.
The day also gave a great insight into how fledgling domestic teams and competitions have shaped the development of the code in Latin America.
Chile named four Australian-based players, and while they were all strong, they were certainly assisted by players from the Chilean interior league, which has just completed its first season.
Built like a lump of granite, Piero Diaz showed why his team Mariman Negrete took out the local title, manhandling defenders in all three of his tries.
Other born-and-bred Chileans to shine were big hitting duo Gabriel Venturelli and Javier Aedo and it was through the centre of the ruck the stocky Chileans proved too powerful and well-drilled.
On a losing side, Brasilian pair Liniker Faria and Gabriel Ribeiro were standouts and both collected deserved tries.
Faria’s spearing try at full pace made the score just 6-4 to the Chileans early and rattled their confidence, before a controversial James Horvat try – where he appeared to drop the ball - was awarded and the Weichafes regained their composure.
Horvat ended the game with a personal haul of 22 points in a dominant display.
Colombia was even more of a test for Argentina, and had it not been for tries just before and after halftime, plus some speculative passing, they could have been well in the contest instead of a 36-4 loss.
Indeed the Condores continually frustrated their fellow newcomers with a quick defensive line and hearty scrambling, almost negating Argentina’s distinct territorial advantage.
Argentina was not afraid to let the ball sing either and displayed impressive handling skills to collect the ball at full pace in all matter of tricky circumstances.
Chunky half Facundo Lizarzuay was amazing for the Argentinians with a bag of tricks that would excite fans outside of emerging nations competitions.
Rampant backrower Gustavo Cosso and powerful outside back Ignacio Traversa were also among everything.
Colombian captain Sebastian Martinez and halves partner Nicolas Perico Daza were their team’s strongest as was expected, but a number of forwards also caught the eye with their courageous runs into the teeth of the Argentinian defence.
Saturday’s culmination of the Primer Rugby League Campeonato sees Brasil play Colombia in the third place playoff at 4pm Chile time, while Chile and Argentina contest the final at 6pm
Before the start of the final, a women’s international exhibition match between Chile and Argentina will also take place.
Aside from the unprecedented level of competition on the continent, the event has seen almost 100kg of donated rugby league balls, jerseys and boots make their way to South America.
Prior to games being played, the tournament held a memorable welcoming soiree that brought together delegates from across the continent for the first time.
The Latinoamericano Championship is a self-funded event, with all participants paying for their own travel and accommodation. If you wish to make a donation at https://www.chuffed.org/project/latino-rugby-league-championship
ARGENTINA 36 (Ignacio Traversa 3, Gustavo Cosso, Ares Martinez, Fernando Lopez, Ariel Cosso tries; Facundo Lizarzuay 2 goals, Juan De Revere 2 goals) defeated COLOMBIA 4 (Sebastian Martinez try) at Cancha Golf 7 Rios, Los Angeles, Chile. Referee: Juan Perez. Touch Judges: Andrew Charles, Iziah Esera Catrileo. Halftime: Argentina 20-0. Interchanges: Argentina 6, Colombia 9.
CHILE 54 (Jonathan Espinoza 3, Piero Diaz 3, James Horvat 2, Javier Aedo, Eduardo Wegener tries; James Horvat 7 goals) defeated BRASIL 8 (Liniker Faria, Gabriel Ribeiro tries) at Cancha Golf 7 Rios, Los Angeles, Chile. Referee: Andrew Charles. Touch Judges: Juan Perez, Iziah Esera Catrileo. Halftime: 20-4. Interchanges: Chile 6, Brazil 4.