Colombian rugby faces a key turning point in its development this month as Las Tucanes face a one-off qualifier against Brazil for a ticket to Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025.

Win and they earn their place at the showpiece tournament. Lose and it is back to the drawing board.

In the trenches, working to ensure the game in her country continues to grow is former Olympian Nicole Acevedo Tanguerife.

Tanguerife first came into contact with an oval ball as a teenager in Medellín, her hometown, in 2009 and it has been an everlasting love.

As a player, she rose to the highest highs, qualifying for and playing at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 when rugby sevens made its much-anticipated debut. For the following six years, she captained the national team in both sevens and 15s.

Her body told her enough was enough in 2022 and she quit playing, but the game is in her blood and Tanguerife continues to be involved and lead in many different ways.

In the past year she has been given the opportunity to further hone her governance skills as part of the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Programme.

“When I saw the news of the 25 new scholars to take part in the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Programme [in 2024-25], it brought back many good memories,” she told World Rugby.

“I remember being told that I had been chosen for last year’s programme by e-mail and it was a very emotional moment.

“I had put my name down a year earlier and hadn’t been chosen. My older sister Isabel had also applied and not been selected. So, being one of them felt great.”

And she continued: “It has been one of the best things that has happened to me off a rugby field, a recognition for the hard work both on and off the field.”

Opening doors

The game has been an integral part of her life since she started playing at 14. Now 29, a biomedical engineer – applying technology in every aspect of life: animals, plants, organisms, human beings – she continues to positively push off the field.

“I was lucky that I had Catalina Palacio [to call on] as a former scholar and she was very good in helping me,” she said.

“Brazilian Marjorie [Enya, from the first group of scholars] was also very helpful and I remember meeting former World Rugby Women’s Development Manager Su Carty in Colombia and she also planted a seed in me.”

Rugby in her country is redefining its future and in Tanguerife, and Palacio, that future rests on strong shoulders.

Tanguerife understood that her lack of English was going to be an issue if she wanted to help even more, so she has used the resources available to her through the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Programme to help break down any language barrier.

“Capgemini was very helpful as they assigned me a leadership coach and during Rugby World Cup 2023, I visited their campus,” Tanguerife said, referring to the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Summit 2023.

“I’ve also done some sports administration courses.

“The scholarship opened many doors and allowed me to meet many interesting women; I soon understood that there are a lot of women that work very hard for the game.”

“It is now or never”

Her English has gotten better, and she can now have relationships from which she can learn. “It is the second language you need to have,” she said.

“For example, the girl from Canada [Maria Samson] is a mother and her focus is in children’s rugby and how to fit rugby in, being a mother and a woman.”

Tanguerife has also since joined Palacio at the Colombian Federation HQ in Medellín.

“Rugby is a life project; I grew in the game, had many opportunities and the scholarship is a huge one,” Tanguerife added. “I hope to be able to help the game to continue to grow.”

As to her professional life, she believes that being an engineer allows her to be very well organised.

“I’ve been leading projects and tournaments,” she explained. “I was also involved in a biomechanical study on kicking in rugby. My career touches everything.”

She will be an interested fan in many aspects when the ticket to England 2025 is decided against Brazil at the end of the month.

“Colombian rugby is at a turning point, a time to shine,” Tanguerife said.

“We need the girls to be successful because there has been a huge investment in time, resources, coaching and players because we believe in them.

“It is now or never. Hopefully the girls will see it the same way.”