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Global wrap: Colombia, UAE and Ukraine on the rise

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19th May, 2019
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Colombia demolished Paraguay on Saturday to claim their first victory in the South American championships, United Arab Emirates crushed hosts Thailand to win the Asian second-division title, and Ukraine overcame Sweden on Sunday to clinch the European North 1 conference.

Not so long ago Colombia were playing in the second division in South America and serving as little more than whipping boys for the Paraguayans on the occasions they did meet. But that changed last year when Colombia prevailed 44-29 in the Americas Rugby Challenge, also involving Mexico and Guyana.

Colombia were also promoted to the first division in 2018 and got closest to victory in a 28-26 loss to Paraguay in Luque. This time they were hosts and duly romped to a 43-13 victory in Medellin. Los Tucanes, as they are known – name after a large-beaked bird – may just be challenging Brazil as the fastest improving team in the Americas.

That said, Brazil themselves crushed Paraguay 66-10 in their opening game last week, so Saturday’s result probably says as much about the Paraguayans as it does about Colombia. Los Yacares (alligators) appear to have fallen well off the pace with their exclusion from the Americas Rugby Championships.

Meanwhile, Uruguay ‘B’ powered to a 38-19 victory over the Brazilians in Sao Paulo on Saturday, while Argentina ‘B’ blitzed Chile 55-3 in Tucuman. Argentina and Uruguay both have two wins from two.

In Thailand the UAE rampaged through the Asian second-division championships, scoring a combined 133 points to 19 from two games. After thumping Guam 82-7 in the semi-finals midweek, they overwhelmed Thailand 50-12 in the final at Phasuk. Kazakhstan, a nation which once reached the World Cup qualifying repechages, defeated Guam 17-8 for third.

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This tournament was effectively the third division, as the Asian Championships, involving the top three nations, are not counted. The first division runs below that and will kick off next week with Taiwan hosting the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Singapore.

The Asian championship itself got underway on Saturday with South Korea cruising to a 52-14 win over Malaysia in Incheon. The visitors scored first, but from that point on it was mostly one-way traffic. Hong Kong is also involved, but perennial champs Japan have withdrawn once again, as they are preparing for the World Cup later this year.

In Odessa on Sunday Ukraine wrapped up the ENC North 1 conference with a 23-14 victory over Sweden. The visitors certainly took the game to their hosts but ultimately lacked the finesse and composure to break down the home side’s resolute defence.

Ukraine will now progress to a play-off with Malta for promotion to the European Trophy tournament, effectively the ENC’s second division. Malta topped the ENC South 1 conference on points for-and-against differential over Croatia, with whom they drew.

A nation with a population of 45 million, Ukraine has played in Europe’s top division a couple of times in the past, albeit with little success, notwithstanding a narrow victory over the Portuguese in Odessa seven years ago.

Elsewhere, Andorra made amends for last week’s loss to Bulgaria with a 33-0 home-win over Serbia in the ENC South conference II competition, and Slovenia demolished Slovakia 91-5 in Ljubljana. Slovenia top the table ahead of Bulgaria on bonus points. Latvia lead the North Conference II and will travel to Norway next weekend.

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There’s not much happening in Africa on the international scene apart from Ivory Coast’s 23-22 win over Ghana’s Eagles in a friendly encounter at Elmina last week. The two would have been second-division rivals in African competition this year, except that the championships were canned.

Meanwhile, the Fijian Latui edged the Samoan Kagifa 38-22 with a late try in Lautoka on Friday to kick off the second of two mini-tournaments being staged by the Rapid Rugby organisers. The Western Force will also be involved.

Rapid Rugby is expected to kick off in earnest next year. The Force recently won the first mini-tournament against Hong Kong’s South China Tigers and Singapore’s Asia-Pacific Barbarians. The West Australians were made to work hard for a 7-3 away win against the latter in their final game.

In North American club rugby San Diego confirmed their place atop the MLR table this weekend with a 31-21 win over Utah. A few weeks out from the play-offs, the Legion have opened up a five-point lead on New Orleans Gold, who suffered a 27-20 setback against Houston’s Sabercats.

Defending champs Seattle Seahawks defeated Colorado’s Glendale Raptors 41-31 to consolidate third place, a point behind New Orleans. Expansion teams New York and Canada’s Ontario are locked in a battle for the fourth semi-finals spot with the Raptors still an outside shot.