By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rio Rugby Club, which made it to the finals of the Rio de Janeiro State Rugby Union’s Annual XV’s competition on July 2nd, has taken great strides both on-and-off the field in recent months. Although eventually losing out in the final of the tournament to neighbors and rivals UFF/Niteroi, the side excelled in a prolonged tournament which lasted for five months and included entries from across Rio state.
After coming so close this time around, the is club pressing forward, not resting on its laurels. The Copa Rio starts in August as Rio Rugby continues to take important steps to turn the sport into a more widespread pastime before the 2016 Olympic Games.
One of Rio Rugby Club’s key players, Dale Smith predicts: “The [Copa Rio] competition will be tougher than ever with all teams improving noticeably during the last competition…this should be a tightly contested contest.”
Also the Copa do Brasil competition will take rugby nationwide and is crucial to the sport’s growth in Brazil. Three teams from each region will compete, with the winner of each region going into a playoff. The overall victor will be invited to join Brazil’s most prestigious competition, the “A League”, a twelve-team tournament featuring the best clubs in the country.
With popularity soaring over the last year, tournaments and competitive fixtures can now occur all year round. Later this year, four Rugby 7’s competitions will be held, with the overall winner also progressing to another national tournament.
The rapid growth of the game has inspired those at Rio Rugby to bring the sport to a larger audience as well. Club president Justin Thornyroft tells The Rio Times how rugby is reaching those in some of Rio’s less privileged communities, where earlier this year Vidigal saw a rugby sports program initiated.
“The area of Vidigal has already seen the benefit; the Municipal Secretary of Sports and Leisure will invest nearly R$250,000 into a community project to get the locals playing rugby.” Thornyroft explains.
The increase in popularity should mean Brazil are in a good position to compete in the Olympic Games in 2016, when Rugby 7’s will debut as an Olympic sport. Initial signs are encouraging: at Twickenham, London’s famous rugby home, Brazil finished third in an international Rugby 7’s tournament last month.
Rapid squad growth means there is a distinct possibility Rio Rugby can soon begin to field two sides; there is currently just one adult side, with the hope that a team for juniors can be started. Two of the clubs younger players have recently been chosen for the Brazilian U19 Rugby Squad in a tournament in Jundiai, SP with teams competing from all over the country.
Clubs are growing quickly across the state. Some have tripled in size over the past year, following the recent trend across Brazil showing rugby is becoming more popular by the month. A recent survey unveiled over 320 teams across the country.
The draw of Rugby for many though, is a sense of fun and camaraderie the sport is famous for, as Dale Smith explains: “It’s the social side of the club where most of our closest friends are made. We have players from all backgrounds and several different continents playing together as equals…where else could you find that!”
Anyone interested in learning the sport or wishing to join the competition should contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. The club accepts males and females from fourteen years-old. Training is every Saturday from 3-5PM, followed by a barbecue at the “Ilha do Fundão” university pitch.