Rugby Sevens: Brazil adding samba style to scrum for 2016

The British are helping to bring a whole new ball game to the beach and finding Brazilian flair transfers well to rugby

Rio de Janeiro

In the shadow of the Maracana – the iconic Brazilian stage graced by legends of the beautiful game – an old footballing dog is learning new tricks.

Just half a mile from the stadium in which next year’s Fifa World Cup winners will be crowned, a group of men and women are practising scrums, line-outs and drills in a city park in the unforgiving 38-degree heat of a Brazilian summer.  Meanwhile, after the sun sets on Ipanema beach on a Wednesday evening, dozens of players for one of Rio’s most successful clubs gather for an hour of touch rugby on the cooling sand.

In a country where football is king, Brazil is turning its hands and its famously talented feet to another English game: rugby.

After winning the bid to host the next Olympic Games, the spiritual home of football has been raising the profile of the sport before rugby sevens returns to the 2016 Games for the first time in almost a century.

And having regularly beaten England at its own game on the football pitch, Brazil has ambitions to run away with rugby on the world stage as well.

“Sevens is the sport that is going to grow because of the sheer interest in the game,” Ollie Phillips, the former England sevens captain, who sailed to Rio with the Team GB Clipper yacht last week, said. “I’d love to come back after the Clipper race and do some work with them here.”

Phillips, who is sailing in the 2013-14 Round the World Yacht Race as he recovers from injury, held a beach session with schoolchildren in front of Rio’s Sugar Loaf Mountain as part of his visit.

“Brazil is famously a footballing nation but the opportunities for young people to be exposed to rugby and many more sports as they prepare to host the Olympics are vast,” he said. “I hope to return in three years as an Olympic athlete and see how the sport has grown in popularity.”

The Brazilian Rugby Confederation has high expectations, with its side currently ranked 34th in the world. It wants to qualify for the World Cup within the next 10 years and increase participation to 500,000 players  by 2030.

With their neighbours in Argentina gaining ground and status in the rugby world and sitting above Italy in the IRB table, Brazil has brought in the British to lead the charge. Since September, a dozen coaches from Premiership Rugby have been teaching the game at schools across Sao Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city.

“Rugby is hardly known out here,” says Dom Caton, of Exeter Chiefs. “You say ‘rugby’ and they look at you with a blank face and then you get a ball out and they say, ‘Oh, American football ,’ and you tell them, ‘No, it’s not American football’. And you explain it to them and they suddenly get really enthusiastic.”

Out of a population of almost 200 million people, there are currently just 10,000 players registered with rugby clubs across the whole of Brazil. By teaching rugby in 12 schools of 1,000 pupils, as well as running dozens of social projects and adult teams, the British Council-supported project will more than double the number of Brazilians engaging with the sport.

And as the 2016 Games approach, an increasing number of amateur clubs, often including children from the favela slums, are emerging.

“With a lot of the children, their skill set is incredible in terms of their football, their footwork, their vision; their ability to see and read the game is great,” Caton added, after a session at his business-led Sesi School in Campinas, Sao Paulo.

 “There’s a real sports culture, which is great for us to enhance and try to grab part of that and use those experiences because a lot of the skills are transferable.”

But though many aspects come naturally to Brazilians, there are elements of the game with which they struggle.

One of Caton’s classes was left visibly puzzled at his explanation in basic Portuguese of the concept of running forwards and passing backwards.

For Edd Rhodes, who works for Northampton Saints, another challenge was to enshrine the principle of respecting the referee in a culture used to seeing its footballing heroes aggressively arguing with match officials.

“To begin with, I focused on the five core values of rugby to show them the difference between football – swearing at the referee – and rugby,” he said. “When you go to give them a game of rugby, they love to argue with the referee – that’s what they’re used to doing in football.”

But, with the potential of sport to address issues of inequality and exclusion, rugby’s social aspect has been readily embraced, with Brazilians adopting their own post-match traditions.

“They call it the third hour,” Rhodes added. “So they have the game, the first half, the second half, and then they have the third hour.

“In England, it’s just the social side and here, they’ve really taken to that as well, they’ve got songs, and dancing, and they really enjoy it.

“There’s some real talent out there that just needs to be found.

“The part of the game that lures people to come is the difference because it’s a contact sport. That’s why I’m trying to develop structured sevens and then fifteens as well.”

Back on Ipanema beach, Rio Rugby, which was set up by British expatriates in the 1940s, has seen its stock rise with the added incentive of hosting the sport at Olympic level.

Coach Leonardo Pereira, 24, said the club had continued even after many of its foreign players had left Brazil.

“In about 1999, we were a bunch of foreigners and we lost a lot of them and what pretty much kept the team going was touch rugby,” he said.

“Now the team is building itself up again. In the last year and a half, the growth has been immense. We had 30 players before and now we have around 110.”

The club has two senior sides as well as Under-16s, Under-18s and a women’s team, often training on the world-renowned beach.

“It comes easily for these boys. We had some players who made the provincial side within six to nine months. Those who live in the favelas are used to going up and down the hill so they’re fit and it comes easily to them,” Pereira said.

“The idea of the club is to get players out of it. Everything we do is pretty much sevens-focused ahead of the Olympics. Playing on the sand, they get stronger and fitter but the game is slower.”

While football might remain the biggest threat to the success of rugby in Brazil, increasing numbers of young people are switching allegiances.

For Rafael Oliveira, 24, rugby is the future. “Rugby is definitely better,” he said without hesitation before an evening session on the beach.

“It’s a smaller sport in Brazil because here, it’s just about football. People think it’s violent but if they teach rugby in schools, the perception of rugby will improve. It’s more competitive than football and it’s about teamwork.”

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform