Former Leicester Tigers academy and Cambridge player Joe Cousens, has recently joined SESI, a team of Rugby Football Union organised coaches that have been sent to Sau Paulo, Brazil, to try and popularise and promote the beautiful game in preparation for the 2016 Olympics. The 20 year old flanker from Norfolk is taking a year out from playing to develop life skills and to try and raise the games profile overseas in places the rugby bug has not yet hit.
“I am really enjoying myself out here, I always knew it was going to be a challenge as most Brazilians don’t even know what rugby is, but SESI are really keen to change all that.
“Already, I think we are starting to make a difference, the numbers coming to the sessions have been increasing with each week I have been out here, which has been really rewarding for me and the other coaches,” says Cousens proudly with a smug grin.
The 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro will include rugby sevens for the first time, following the success of the sport in the Commonwealth Games. The vote was decided by the International Olympic Committee at the session in Copenhagen during 2009. Cousens smiles with excitement: “I think that it is a great thing for the sevens tournament to be introduced, to have the opportunity to showcase some of our sports greatest athletes on a world stage like the Olympics can only be beneficial.”
In a nation bathed in historic footballing glory, the task of transforming this soccer, samba country into a scrum loving, rib crunching rugby mad place like our own, has always proved to be a tough ask. The Brazilian Rugby Association combined with the RFU are eager to try and achieve this goal by concentrating on youth rugby, in an attempt to develop the skills for the future generations.
“We are mainly coaching in schools around the Sau Paulo area at the moment and it can be very tough. A lot of the kids keep the ball on the floor and are more worried about doing kick-ups and taking free kicks rather than putting the ball in their hands and trying to pass it,” sighs Cousens.
“Saying that though, I have been with the same bunch for about two months now and the development of their skill set has really blown me away in such a short space of time.
“Hopefully the development continues like it has been doing and not just in Sau Paulo, but all over the country,” states Cousens with a determined look.
Already with a national team competing on the global sevens circuit, Brazil are keen to try and improve the state of their 15 man game. Neighbours Uruguay have appeared in three World Cup tournaments and Argentina are rapidly becoming one of the games big name players, holding their own in the newly formed Rugby Championship tournament with the giants New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Brazil cannot use the excuse that they are purely a footballing nation, in recent times they have suffered defeats in the 11 man game to both Argentina and Uruguay and yet these two nations are both contending with the worldwide rugby powers at the same time, proving that both can be done.
“It is obvious that the whole country lives for football, wherever we go there are people of all ages kicking footballs to each other. If we get the nation to enjoy rugby even a little bit as much as they love their football, then I think we will have been successful,” says Cousens laughing to himself.
The footballing aspect of Brazilian life may however prove to be an asset to rugby. With Brazil boasting some of the most astonishing stadiums worldwide, surely rugby can only benefit if the rights to share some of the grounds are agreed. With the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro holding a capacity of 82,238 it could play a fantastic host to an atmospheric filled rugby match.
“I haven’t been up to Rio yet but I went to watch the football at the Estádio do Morumbi here in Sau Paulo and the atmosphere was electric. I would love to see that sort of crowd and such big numbers watching rugby out here,” says Cousens.
Is the objective of these organisations just to compete for Brazilian rugby gold at the Olympics? “No, not at all, obviously it is one of the main factors of why we are here, but ultimately we want to try and really put Brazil on the rugby map in the long run,” states Cousens with a notion of intent in his voice.
With over three years left until the Olympic torch is lit in Rio, it gives Brazil a fighting chance to get themselves ready for the tournament. The aid of SESI and other likeminded organizations are helping Brazil to move in the right direction to progress and to hopefully develop the game of rugby for many years to come.