By Robert Burgin and Hugo Froes
Sāo Paulo Raiders will host local rivals Taubaté this Saturday (Dec 4) in a winner-take-all clash to determine who will face Urutau in the 2021 Brasil Rugby League men’s grand final.
Boasting arguably the biggest forward pack seen in the history of Latin American Rugby League, the world’s 11th largest city Sāo Paulo will start favourite after beating Taubaté 32-23 just a few weeks ago.
Regardless of the outcome, the grand final will be held at Taubaté on December 11, in a format that will see all six men’s teams play on the day, with playoffs for third and fifth.
It has been a pleasing return to competition for men’s teams, after no championships were decided in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, which impacted Brasil heavily.
And despite much of the attention falling on Brasil’s female competition – due to the Amazonas securing a spot at the World Cup and registration numbers skyrocketing – the men’s league has also seen progress on and off the field.
Urutau, undefeated at the last championship in 2019, has been tested this year unlike in previous campaigns. The Screaming Owls lost their first game of the year to plucky challengers Maringa and, indeed, many believe Sāo Paulo Raiders are more advanced at this late stage of the season.
It’s startling to think the Raiders are a brand new team to the competition, joining Umuarama as one of two additional men’s sides in 2021.
Sāo Paulo, population 21 million, captured the men’s Nines title in February soon after forming and have the experience of Thiago ‘Fester’ Navarro as their coach, an influential figure in school-based development programs.
The Raiders have also recruited well, boasting Olympian André Silva, high-level union representative Vinicius Hideo, seasoned Brasil league half Douglas Parazzi and a bunch of monstrous forwards including Caio Oziolli, Gabriel Saraiva, Bruno Melo and Bruno Morales.
Opponents Taubaté are a more established and strategic club, focused around a group of tightknit individuals from a much smaller city of 300,000 people who have studied rugby league intently under head coach Romulo Soler.
The addition of boom rookie Vinicius Alyfer has added another dimension to the Taubaté team and the duel between hookers Mauricio Pereira and Liam Piacente will be another delight to watch.
Whichever team emerges victorious they will not approach reigning champions Urutau lightly in the decider, wary of their highly skill-based style.
With the four Domingues brothers and captain Murillo Manzutti, Urutau specialising at shifting the point of attack and their support play is second nature.