Costa Rica, which is home to a growing rugby scene, will host the Sudamérica Rugby Sevens Costa Rica 2021 tournament between 27-28 November, 2021, where nine nations will compete for two places in Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022. The latter is to be played in Cape Town, South Africa, from 9-11 September, 2022.

Whilst the home team might find it hard against the more experienced likes of Chile, Brazil and Uruguay, they have been working tirelessly for months with the goal of showcasing the sport in the nation’s biggest sporting stadium, the Estadio Nacional.

“It is a very professional environment, with a lot of hard work behind us and a structure on hand to assist,” says Andrés Ortíz, the France-based centre that joined Los Ticos a couple of weeks ago ahead of the tournament, on the left in the photo.

A Costa Rican player making a career in French rugby is a story of dreams and pioneering that transcends borders. It is a story of opening doors for future players to shine in the country that will host Rugby World Cup 2023. One such player is Andrés Ortíz.

Having picked up the game at 21, eight long years ago, he fell in love with it instantly. So much so that in 2017, after shining at the Juegos Centroamericanos (a multi-discipline sporting event for the region), he travelled to France thanks to a French coach that he’d met when the coach was helping the national team.

“I arrived on 11 December, 2017,” he recalls. “I played my first season in Rabastens, a 40-minute drive from Toulouse and after winning the league, moved to my actual club, Saint Sulpice la Pointe, also close to Toulouse.”

When not training for the competitive Federale 2, the French fifth division, semi-professional Ortíz works for Airbus as part of the team that paints their A350 and A330s. He is hoping to jump a couple of divisions up in the next season, but at the moment, the goal at hand is back home, in San José, where it all started for Ortíz at Universitarios Club de Rugby.

“The goal for the Sudamérica Rugby Sevens Costa Rica 2021 tournament is to be the top Central American team. Sevens is a fun game so after that, who knows?”

“I found a team that works very hard, with a lot of discipline and the goal of planting Costa Rican rugby as high as it can. We have a blend of experienced players and some fresh faces. Unlike the old days, when you had to push players to go to national training sessions, today you have a very motivated squad of around 20, 25 players. Rugby in my country is evolving fast.”

Hosting an international sevens qualifier in San José is something that will certainly give the game exposure and profile.

“To further develop the game, we must work on making it bigger, and clubs and Federation are doing a great job. Having rugby in the Estadio Nacional is huge.”

The first modern sports and event arena in Central America, the Estadio Nacional can hold 35 thousand spectators, but at the moment, mainly due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, only 1,800 tickets will be sold. Ortíz hopes that when they sell out they will allow a bigger capacity.

For Ortíz, playing there is huge.

“Playing rugby at the Estadio Nacional will be an historic occasion – something that gives us huge pride and exposure. We are a soccer-mad country and that our sport can set foot in this stadium will be a turning point, showing the government that rugby can organise good events. It will open doors.” And opening doors is something Ortíz is keen on.

His team mate at Saint Sulpice, Byron Monge, is also back to join the national team for the Sudamérica Rugby Sevens Costa Rica 2021 tournament.

“I was asked if I saw myself as a trailblazer. Yes, because I don’t want to be the last Costa Rican to play overseas, but the first of many. I have learnt a lot and my rugby is so much better for the experience. I have a lot to share. Not all has been perfect, I’ve had my high and low points, but if I can help my fellow countrymen to give it a go, the benefit for rugby in Costa Rica will be huge.”