Last weekend the US Eagles lost their first match of the newly-created Americas Championship, going down 24-23 to Brazil at the Arena Barueri in São Paulo.
Previously, the USA, who are now led by former All Blacks coach John Mitchell, had drawn 35-35 with an Argentinian XV – made up of mostly second or third string players – and beaten Canada 30-22. They also pummelled Chile 64-0 in week three of the event.
Brazil, in comparison, had lost 25-22 to the aforementioned Chile, 29-33 to Uruguay and 52-25 to Canada. Few people expected them to compete with one of the tournament favourites.
Yet it appears the US were complacent when travelling down to São Paulo and were at one point 18-6 down to their opponents, and although they brought on more seasoned internationals off the bench to try and bring parity to the match, a last-minute penalty by Brazil’s Moises Duque confirmed victory.
Before the game, Brazil lay at 42 in the world rankings, but their shock victory has seen them move up to 38. USA, on the other hand, has dropped from 16th to 17th.
There are now the first signs in Brazil that rugby might be about to take off in a big way: Brazil sevens will take part in the Olympic Rugby Sevens tournament in what is the first time rugby union has been involved in the Olympics since 1924 and the host nation will be hoping to put in some big performances.
In 2011 Lucas “Tanque” Duque and his brother Moisés Duque were given trials with professional teams in France and Luiz Viera is part of the extended playing squad at Top 14 side Oyonnax. These are only small steps, but with rugby sevens being showcased in Brazil this summer it can only be hoped that the sport takes the Brazilian public’s imagination by storm.
For now, though, the introduction of the Americas Championship is giving bigger teams like the US and Canada the chance to play regularly against each other, but also to test themselves against a growing Argentinian side, whose strength in depth is being thoroughly tested by the use of their second or third string players in this tournament.
Meanwhile, genuine minnows like Chile, Uruguay and Brazil are being given regular competitive rugby that will serve to strengthen those sides and help to foster more interest in the game in those respective nations.
Rugby is a growing sport and with Argentina finally breaking up the old SANZAR cartel, anything is possible in its future. With a Rugby World Cup being held in Japan in 2019 – the first in Asia –and a shock win for Japan against South Africa in the 2015 tournament, these are genuinely exciting times for the sport.
Keep one eye on Brazil, you might be seeing them qualify for a World Cup sooner rather than later, and surprising victories like this one over the US might not be so unusual in the distant future.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena