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BRAZIL. 4 years after this HUGE scrum, what has become of the Seleção?

Autumn 2018. At the Stade de São Paulo, in front of 30,000 people, the Brazilian team of the Sancery twins and Laurent Bourda, faces the Maori All Blacks. If the latter finally won quite easily (3-35), one of the highlights of the match was the crazy domination of the Carioca scrum against the Kiwis. And when you are told domination, it was actually a humiliation:

You probably remember this incredible sequence. Four years have passed since that meeting. Where is Brazilian rugby since then? In fact, the Seleção were at the peak of their rugby at that time, and since the Covid crisis, have been on a downward slope and have struggled to regain the level that they were. Simon Bienvenu, globe-trotting player, former member of the Cobras team (São Paulo franchise in the SuperLiga Americana, South American championship), detailed the state of Brazilian rugby today.

Top 14, USA, Hong Kong and New Zealand: the incredible adventure of Simon Bienvenu

Particularity of the SuperLiga franchises to better understand this competition: there are six franchises spread over six South American countries. The Cafeteros of Medellín in Colombia, Selknam of Santiago in Chile, Jaguares XV of Buenos Aires in Argentina, Penarol of Montevideo in Uruguay, Cobras of Sao Paulo in Brazil and Olimpia Lions of Asuncion in Paraguay. Franchises are national teams in disguise. Almost every player is international in the country in question.

The particularity of Brazil therefore, compared to Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, all three qualified for the World Cup, is that it does not only have players from very privileged backgrounds. An elitist sport in the first countries mentioned, Brazil has players from the favelas in its ranks. Moreover, rugby is used by these players to help the inhabitants of these neighborhoods:

There are projects that are carried out in the favelas, of social integration, where rugby is used as a vector of integration. What made that players found themselves in the team as a professional. Our audience was therefore not at all from high society, but on the contrary very popular.

Despite the projects carried out, football obviously remains the national sport, and the pool of rugby players remains low.

There is a national championship called the Top 12. Among the 12 teams present, there are about 3 which have a good level and which include Brazilian internationals and therefore Cobra players in their ranks. The rest is pretty low. There is really a big difference in level. The pool is really not very important. There are about 40 players maximum who play rugby with salaries at stake. But these salaries are very small. They don’t allow players to build their lives with them.

At the Cobras, the team was quite young for two reasons: either players went to Europe with a gateway to Portugal (no language barrier), to get better salaries, knowing that some pillars have done well and are playing currently in France. Either others simply stopped rugby to devote themselves fully to their more profitable professional activity.

Difficult then for Brazil to build a competitive team. Unlike Chile, the players do not have financial security allowing them to devote themselves completely to rugby, the selection does not manage to keep a group in the long term and thus build a competitive team. Before the arrival of Uruguayan coach Pablo Lemoine in Chile, the latter was behind Brazil in terms of level of play. Since then, thanks to the professionalism provided by the coach, with extensive preparation for players who bet everything on rugby, these were able to overtake the Cariocas. All with substantially identical operating budgets, but completely different requirements for players…

World Cup.  ''Historic'', ''unexpected''... the Chilean press reacts to the qualification of the CondoresWorld Cup. ”Historic”, ”unexpected”… the Chilean press reacts to the qualification of the Condores

We all remember the scrum of Brazil which had won that of the Maoris in São Paulo. Unfortunately, it was Brazil’s peak at that time. The Covid has hurt rugby very badly: there, the players are starting to practice this sport late. With two years off for young people who were in clubs, it was impossible to make up for lost time.

Moreover, the federation bet everything on the national team in financial terms. But when the pandemic arrived and it was necessary to continue to push the team, the federation, too indebted, could not follow. The Argentine coach at the time therefore resigned, a large part of the players more or less stopped. We thus started on a new generation.

You would have understood it. The situation in Brazil is really complicated. As proof of Bienvenu’s claim, his Cobras team finished last in the regular season in the SuperLiga. It is a symbol of the malaise of rugby in this country of 200 million inhabitants. Despite this, he remains optimistic. A new management team is at the helm of the federation. The objective of qualifying for a World Cup in a few years remains.

Something that impressed me: Brazilians are bodybuilding freaks. They grow like Donkeys, I’ve never seen that. Even at Racing or Toulouse when I was Espoir, they didn’t push as much. They are less impressive than the French or the guys from the islands, but they have incredible strength.

Frankly, you can expect anything with the Brazilians. They were 30,000 to go see the national team against the Maori All Blacks. The rugby craze can start and explode at any time, we don’t know where or how.

Thanks to the historic qualification of Chile, Brazil hopes to take advantage of the emulation which will be created in South America, to make up for lost time and regain the level which was its own. With a health situation that seems to be under control worldwide, an ambitious new management team and a SuperLiga that is getting off to a great organizational success, the Seleção can (re)become a new surprise in South America.


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