Brazil will want to give their stalwart Baby Futuro a farewell to remember with yet another South American Championship at the Sudamericano Femenino de Rugby, which takes place this weekend in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Eight teams will compete for a trophy that has been won 17 of a possible 18 times by As Yaras, the dominating force in the region. Futuro, 34, has played in 13 of those 17 tournaments. She also has appeared at three Rugby World Cup Sevens, in Dubai 2009, Moscow 2013 and San Francisco 2018.
Making her debut as a teenager in the first-ever South American Sevens in Venezuela in 2004, Futuro only missed four tournaments whilst being overseas and through injury. Brazil have never lost to regional opposition with her on the field.
“I would love to have some more rubber left in my knee to make it to the Olympics, but I’d rather leave on my terms,” Futuro told World Rugby in Montevideo.
“I am at ease and very thankful of what rugby gave me, what I enjoyed, learned, shared. I had a very good career and I retire full of joy.”
Futuro, younger sister of former international Cris, played in the 2015 Pan American Games and was ever-present in the Rio Olympics, after which she was named Olympic Sports Personality by the Brazilian Olympic Committee. She is now a member of the Athletes’ Committee.
Brazil will be joined by Paraguay, Chile and hosts Uruguay in Pool A of the South American Sevens. Argentina, losing finalists a year ago, sit in Pool B with Colombia, Peru and Costa Rica.
Last year, the Colombians became the first South American team to ever beat Brazil during the Pan American Games Bronze Final, match in which Futuro did not play. In 2015, they also claimed the only Sudamericano that doubled as an Olympic Qualifier, when As Yaras did not compete.
Now preparing for Tokyo 2020, for which they qualified last year, the Brazilians, under new coach, English-born Will Broderick, a long-time resident of the country, spent a month in Portugal where the play against the home side and Spain, winning the nine games played.
“It was great preparation,” said Futuro. “But with COVID-19 happening and the Games moved to next year, I realised that the young players are in a better place than me. I am happy to be able to decide when to retire.”
As bittersweet as this tournament will be for her, and the superb preparation her team has had, Argentina and Colombia will again pose a real threat.
The Argentine squad, who alongside Colombian still have dreams of going to Tokyo next year through the final qualifying tournament, was the first to arrive in Montevideo and prepare inside the sanitary bubble. A couple of positive coronavirus cases did not derail their preparation and hope to be ready come Saturday.
“Our hopes for the tournament are as always very high,” says new Argentine captain Gimena Matus. “For us, it is a privilege to be able to play in this tournament and be able to represent our country.
“It is very good experience to be here and be able to share this with my team-mates after a tough period when we had to train by ourselves via Zoom. Fortunately, we are now focused on the tournament, having worked very hard and are very fit.”
Every team but Brazil will find out how ready they are after a year of no competition. Home captain María Eugenia Cruces, a biochemist who was featured this year in a story on internationals battling the pandemic, is hoping for a better finish than their eighth place in 2019.
“It was a very difficult year in which we didn’t test ourselves with other teams, so we are unsure of what to expect. What we are sure of is that we prepared a lot, working non-stop since January and we have high hopes.” Uruguay, who have finished third in the competition four times, at least had the luxury of playing local rugby in preparation for the tournament.
Uruguay is the country that has best dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic in South America, and has already hosted the Sudamericano 4 Naciones for men. The eight participating teams are in a strict bubble and will be tested again 48 hours prior to the start of the tournament, having spent at least seven days in the country.
The whole tournament will be available worldwide for free on Sudamérica Rugby’s official app (available on Google Play and Apple Store). The tournament kicks-off on Saturday at 10am (-3 GMT), and one hour earlier on Sunday.
Photo credit: Frankie Deges