Argentina will soon have a second professional rugby franchise, Brazil and Uruguay will soon have two apiece, and Chile, Paraguay and Colombia are all expected to have one by 2021.
Inspired by the success of North America’s Major League Rugby (MLR), South America now has firm plans to launch its own professional competition next year.
In an official announcement from Sudamérica Rugby last month, it was confirmed that Súper Liga Americana de Rugby (SLAR) will begin next year with six franchises, expanded to eight in 2021 and ten by 2024.
The league will run during the Southern Hemisphere autumn, over ten weeks in 2020 and 14 in 2021. The Americas Rugby Championship will thus be pushed back to August and September.
A report in Argentina’s La Nacion earlier this year stated the objective was to expand the existing base of players and contribute to the development of rugby across the region.
There would be a maximum of five Argentinean players per foreign franchise, while Pacific Islanders are also expected to be brought in. Salaries will reportedly range from US$500 to US$3500 a month to begin with.
Most interesting of all is that the franchises are likely to be aligned with famous soccer clubs such as Uruguay’s Penarol and Nacional.
This is not a new idea, of course. Many European football clubs are aligned with basketball teams, while powerhouse FC Barcelona already has a rugby team competing in Spain’s Division de Honor with some success.
Nacional and Penarol are both based in the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, though it would be folly to stage rugby games in the giant soccer stadiums themselves at this stage.
The rugby teams will probably play out of the 14,000 capacity Charrua Stadium. The possibility of double-headers has also been raised.
Brazil – considered one of the main driving forces behind the league – is expected to base its teams in the giant metropolitan hub of Sao Paulo and the southern tourist resort of Florianopolis with its milder climate.
Argentina’s franchise may be aligned with the Talleres football club in the nation’s second biggest city, Cordoba, which has a population of around 1.4 million and a proud rugby tradition. Rosario and Tucuman have also been mentioned.
The 2015 World Cup semi-finalists are apparently only interested in the one franchise at this stage, primarily as a back-up squad to the Jaguares Super Rugby side.
According to reports, they are also planning to field a team in South Africa’s Currie Cup provincial competition next year – something they have done in the past. Argentina has also expressed its desire to help the game develop across the South American continent, naturally.
The sixth franchise will be based in Chile, probably aligned with the Universidad Catolica football club in the capital, Santiago. Chile has long been regarded as South America’s third team, though it faces stern competition from the fast-improving Brazilians these days.
Paraguay has already been confirmed for expansion in 2021, with its franchise expected to be aligned with the Olimpia football club in the capital Asuncion. Involvement in SLAR will serve as some consolation for the nation’s somewhat unfair exclusion from the Americas Rugby Championships.
These are the five nations that comprise the so-called Cone of South America, the most Europeanised region of the continent. They have been the leading rugby nations down the ages and mainstays of the first division.
Relative newcomer Colombia has also been offered a place in the 2021 competition, however, with Medellin the most likely base.
This would take professional rugby into the northern half of the continent and right up to Central America’s doorstep. Colombia recently earned promotion to an expanded South American first division and has already recorded one victory, over Paraguay.
Inspirational captain Sebastian Mejia has apparently been calling for investors for the proposed SLAR team on social media, according to a report in Uruguay’s El Observador newspaper.
Colombia is also the second most populous nation on the continent behind Brazil, with around 50 million inhabitants.
Just where the competition will expand to beyond 2021 remains to be seen.
The continent’s seventh team Venezuela have been locked out of regional competition recently, with Guatemala refusing to grant the players visas for the region’s second division championships last year, somewhat disgracefully.