The second edition of the Superliga Americana de Rugby (SLAR) begins today, with the teams already in Santiago, Chile, where they will play the first five games in a COVID bubble.

Despite the tournament having to postpone one of its opening round fixtures, SLAR is poised to become a beacon of professional rugby in the region.

Six countries will be represented – Jaguares XV will carry the Argentine flag, Cobras Brasil XV represents the biggest country in the region, Selknam is named after a Chilean native tribe, true to their national tradition the Colombian side will be called Cafeteros Pro (Coffee-makers Pro), with Paraguay and Uruguayan using well-known football names in Olimpia Lions and Peñarol respectively.

Two round-robin rounds (the first of five in Chile), will culminate in semi-finals and a grand final for the Trofeo SLAR, which will be played for at the Estadio Charrúa on Saturday, 15 May, home for the final five rounds and two following weekends.

With a strong presence of players that have already represented their national teams either at test or age grade, each squad will be comprised of 30 players.

A draft system was used for the teams short in certain areas of the pitch, and the Argentine Rugby Union was generous in releasing a number of players to each of the other five franchises. The goal: to have six competitive squads.

Each franchise has coaches of unquestionable CVs, all of them Argentine-born, and, except for Jaguares XV, SLAR marks the start of full high-performance preparation on the road to Rugby World Cup 2023, which is expected to start soon after the end of this tournament.

JAGUARES XV (Argentina)

Coached by Ignacio Fernández Lobbe, the former Puma lock forever remembered for his exploits in Argentina's third-place finish at RWC 2007, has been working with national development teams for five years, promoting a large number of players to Jaguares and Los Pumas.

The young, yet experienced team, is made up only of Argentines, with a handful of players involved in the last full Super Rugby final and Santiago Chocobares, the former Pumita who starred in his country’s first-ever win against the All Blacks.

The captain will be Felipe Ezcurra, who started in Argentina’s win against the USA at RWC 2019 and is the most experienced player in the squad.

Captain: Felipe Ezcurra.

Best known players: Santiago Chocobares, Francisco Gorrissen, Sebastián Cancelliere, Tomás Cubilla.

Ones to watch: Juan Pablo Castro, Rodrigo Fernández Criado, Tomás Albornoz, Juan Bautista Daireaux, Joaquín Oviedo.

Up and coming talent: Juan Martín González, Martín Vaca, Francisco Minervino. 

COBRAS BRASIL XV (Brazil)

The Brazilian franchise relies heavily on the player base of Os Tupis, the national team. There is an abundance of experience and quality in a squad that has battled hard over the years to raise their standards.

Of the original five SLAR teams, they were the only one not to take the field in 2020, as the country went into lockdown on their way to the captain’s run in Paraguay. This year, they had to delay their arrival in Santiago due to players quarantining due to COVID-19.

Having national coach Fernando Portugal as assistant coach and former Puma assistant coach Emiliano Bergamaschi as head coach ensures a great mix of smart backs and a solid pack of forwards that will help them face the many challenges ahead.

Captain will be Felipe Sancery, also Tupis captain. Born in Brazil but with a game developed in France, he returned to his country of birth with twin brother Daniel and they’ve played together for Brazil, Cobras and at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Captain: Felipe Sancery.

Best known players: André Arruda (Buda), Moisés Duque, Daniel Sancery, Devon Müller.

Ones to watch: Robert Tenorio, Santiago Grippo, Cleber Días (Gelado).

Up and coming talent: Manuel Bernstein, Matheus Rocha (Blade).

SELKNAM (Chile)

Their name is a direct link to their identity. The Selknam nation is a native tribe from the country’s south and they represent the strength and will of what they want to achieve.

Built from the base of the national team, Selknam will be coached by Cóndores assistant coach Nicolás Bruzzone, one of Los Pumas 7s best-ever players. Following from a close distance will be Pablo Lemoine who is leading Chile’s growth in strength as they embrace high-performance.

They will be playing at home for the first five rounds, but it won't be the typical home advantage as the squad will be based in the same hotel as the other five franchises and in a strict bubble. Of the four Argentine players drafted, three played in the team in 2020.

Nacho Silva is one of the oldest players in the tournament and has been representing Chile since age-grade rugby in 2007. His presence and commitment have made him a standout in every team he’s played for.

Captain: Ignacio Silva.

Best known players: Martín Sigren, Patricio Baronio, Tomás Dussaillant, Clemente Saavedra.

Ones to watch: Santiago Portillo, Nicolás Garafulic, Matías Dittus.

Up and coming talent: Matías Garafulic, Lukas Carvallo

CAFETEROS PRO (Colombia)

The Colombian team will be making a double debut in the Superliga Americana de Rugby 2021. In an incredible effort for the proactive Colombian Rugby Federation, they are taking on the huge challenge of tackling entry to a high-performance world and professional rugby.

Having experienced coach Rodolfo Ambrosio on board is a definite plus. As head coach of Brazil, he led them to an unprecedented rise – and will now have a squad with 15 Argentine players that will be mentoring the growing Colombians.

Gonchi García played three consecutive World Rugby U20 Championships and an untimely injury robbed him of a chance of playing for the Argentina XV in last year’s Sudamericano 4 Naciones. He is aiming to work his way back through Cafeteros Pro.

Captain: Gonzalo García.

Best known players: Jhon Arley Urrutia, Danny Giraldo, Cristian Rodallegas, Facundo Ferrario, Aníbal Panceyra Garrido.

Ones to watch: Ramiro Tallone, Agustín Acosta, Nicolás Roger, Brayhan Pérez.

Up and coming talent: Felipe Puertas, Lautaro Simes.

OLIMPIA LIONS (Paraguay)

The Paraguayan team faces a huge challenge. Led by experienced head coach Raúl Pérez, the first coach of Super Rugby outfit Jaguares and now in his fourth year as Yacaré leader, he is a good developer of players and teams. Paraguay has had to draft half of its squad from Argentina, with the aim of these players sharing their rugby experience and knowledge with the Yacarés. SLAR will be very important for those players ahead of the road to Rugby World Cup 2023.

The experience of captain Alex Zapata, and now in his second stint with Olimpia Lions, will be huge.

Captain: Axel Zapata.

Best known players: Rodrigo Martínez, Lucas Favre, Lucas Santa Cruz, Renato Cardona.

Ones to watch: Ignacio Inchauspe, Jerónimo Gómez Vara, Martín Bogado, Ignacio Gandini.

Up and coming talent: Martín Bogado, Joaquín Pellandini.

PEÑAROL RUGBY (Uruguay)

Uruguay has a strong representative, with Peñarol basing its squad on the team and staff of Los Teros and many of its players having been at RWC 2019. The side only had to draft in four players.

18 months since Los Teros beat Fiji in that unforgettable warm afternoon in Kamaishi, there has been very little rugby played since.

Because of this, and the individual strength of its players, the “Champion of the Century”, as Peñarol is known for its celebrated football history, will be a challenger to the SLAR trophy.

With Pablo Bouza as head coach, and two of Los Teros assistants in Guzmán Barreiro and Oscar Durán, there is sufficient off-the-field expertise.

For the second stage of the tournament, Peñarol Rugby will play at Uruguayan rugby’s headquarters of Estadio Charrúa.

A two-time RWC star with a strong midfield presence and an accurate foot, Andrés Vilaseca will certainly lead from the front.

Captain: Andrés Vilaseca.

Best known players: Nicolás Freitas, Rodrigo Silva, Santiago Civetta, Federico Favaro, Diego Arbelo, Guillermo Pujadas.

Ones to watch: Manuel Ardao, Manuel Nogues, Facundo Pomponio.

Up and coming talent: Lucas Bianchi, Eric Dosantos

Photo: GaspaFotos