An Argentina XV celebrated the first international rugby tournament since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic by beating, in successive rounds, teams representing Chile, Brazil and Uruguay in the Sudamericano 4 Naciones 2020. The entire tournament was played in Montevideo, Uruguay, a country that has displayed one of the best responses to the global situation in a hard-hit region.
The Argentina team, coached by former Puma Ignacio Fernández Lobbe, waited until the third round to play its best rugby, comfortably beating a home side that, in similar fashion to the three visiting teams, offered great opportunities to its younger players.
The champion side opened with a narrow 25-24 win against the Chile XV; their second win was a 40-5 display against the Brazil XV.
Starting their final match, the Argentinians sat top of the table, as Uruguay had lost 22-21 against Chile. However, a loss without a bonus point would seriously damage their chances of taking the trophy home.
With a clear formula for controlling the match through a big pack of forwards led by Puma Javier Ortega Desio – who, having contracted coronavirus and becoming unable to train with Los Pumas, was left behind in South America to recover with the Argentina XV – things started to happen for the Tomás Cubilla-captained team.
The forwards had dominated in each match, and, as the minutes brought match-fitness, they became better in their execution – as did their backline. Having scored three in the opening match and five in the second, the Argentine side would go on to score seven against the Uruguay XV in an impressive 53-19 victory.
“I am very happy with today’s game,” said Fernández Lobbe, after his side closed the tournament as champions. “We showed character, discipline, we won sufficient ball and played a direct style.
“This squad has young players that are starting to play at another level to the one they are accustomed to. They will continue to develop, mixing it with more experienced players. That good chemistry generated was noticeable during this month and a bit that we worked together.”
Of the Argentina XV’s 15 tries in the Sudamericano 4 Naciones 2020, five came from the tournament’s leading try scorer – one of its younger players – hooker Ignacio Ruiz. One of many South American youngsters to watch in the near future.
Youth plays a big role
Uruguay XV also took to the field with a number of younger players, many of which should have been playing in Spain in the World Rugby U20 Trophy.
The gulf between the Argentinian and Uruguayan sides was noticeable in the final round, bar when, towards the end of the match, the Uruguay XV fielded some of its more experienced players, including Rugby World Cup veterans Andrés Vilaseca, Nicolás Freitas, Federico Favaro (Sudamericano 4 Naciones 2020 top scorer with 33 points), Santiago Civetta and Leandro Segredo. Yet these efforts proved too late with the match already well decided.
Uruguay will next play two fixtures against Spain in Montevideo. Captain Vilaseca is certain that his side will learn many lessons from this run of fixtures.
"The goal was not the Sudamericano nor Spain. It is for the future. It was a very nice test to see where we are. The players did a huge job; they should have been playing the (World Rugby U20) Trophy rather than being in this tournament. I am proud that they gave their all.”
The battle for second
In the earlier game, the Chile XV – who had beaten their big regional rival Uruguay in the second round – overcame a stubborn Brazil XV 26-13. They needed the win and bonus point to have any chance of becoming champions ahead of Argentina if they weren’t to do the same, yet only two tries were managed in the win.
Coached by Pablo Lemoine, with the experienced Ignacio Silva, Juan Pablo Larenas, captain Martín Sigrén, and new blood in the ranks such as the Saavedra twins Domingo and Clemente, Alfonso Escobar, Matías Garafulic and 19-year old wing Diego Warnken, Chilean men’s rugby could be on the cusp of something special. In the Sudamericano 4 Naciones 2020, at least, Chile arrived with a better team than past international tournaments.
"I am very happy for the huge effort done by staff and players,” said Lemoine, at the end of the tournament. “Players did a huge effort and understood that sacrifice and consistency are important and bring rewards; we are still lacking in many aspects, on and off the field.”
Investing in the future
The Brazil XV also used the tournament to invest in youth.
Young half-backs Felipe Cunha and Lucas Spago, 18-year old lock Gabriel Oliveira, 19-year old loose forward Adrio Luiz de Melo and many others will return home with a bag full of experience. Well-known players, such as twins Daniel and Felipe Sancery, Moisés Duque and fly-half Josh Reeves – who played a second-string role on match days but a key mentoring one during the tournament – remained in the squad as key players.
Former international Fernando Portugal, Brazil’s head coach, said: “It was a nice tournament; we managed to see new players in tournament situation … what happened was great.
“The players were hard hit by defeat, but we gave our best in every game and that was something to cherish.”
Thanks to those who made it all possible
As the tournament reached its conclusion, the winning coach Fernández Lobbe was thankful of efforts made by regional, local and government officials to make it all possible.
"I thank Sudamérica Rugby, the Unión de Rugby del Uruguay and the Unión Argentina de Rugby for this tournament. For us, and everyone here, the Sudamericano 4 Naciones was a light of hope in the road. It was the only certainty we had in uncertain days.”
Photo credit: Sudamérica Rugby