The qualifying process for Rugby World Cup 2007 in the Americas followed two different pathways, one beginning in the Caribbean and the other in South America, with them only converging in a playoff to determine the region’s third team bound for France.
Nineteen nations took part with the honour of being the first two falling on Brazil and Peru in Round 1b in the CONSUR [Confederation Sudamericana de Rugby] section in October 2004 with Brazil running out 73-3 winners in Sao Paulo.
They then beat Colombia 74-0, before Venezuela entered the fray with victories against Peru 33-22 and Colombia 31-27, although on each occasion they needed late tries by fly half Pablo Barboza to ease nerves after their hosts had staged comebacks.
Winner takes all in the South
It all came down, therefore, to a winner-takes-all match between Venezuela and Brazil in the sweltering heat of Barquisimeto in November 2004, with both sides unbeaten and a place in Round 2 alongside Chile and Paraguay the prize.
That place was eventually taken by Brazil after an 11-5 victory in an error-strewn match which saw six missed penalties, four of them by the winning side. Brazil, though, would have an 11-month wait until their next RWC qualifier.
In the interim the focus switched to the Caribbean with St Lucia and St Vincent & The Grenadines meeting in a preliminary match in May 2005 in Vieux Fort, the home side winning 36-25 to take join Guyana, Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago in the South Pool.
The North Pool comprising Jamaica, Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands took place the following month at the Winton Rugby Centre in Nassau with the Bahamas coming out on top despite losing their final match 5-3 to Jamaica.
That defeat, allied with the Cayman Islands’ 12-6 victory over Bermuda, left both sides with two victories, but the Bahamas had the better point differential and had recovered from 12-7 down to beat their rivals 23-12 in their opening match.
In the South Pool, St Lucia conceded 41 tries and 260 points in three heavy defeats in Georgetown as Barbados finished top with victories over hosts Guyana 27-17, St Lucia 97-0 – the highest score in the Americas qualifiers – and Trinidad & Tobago 25-13.
Barbados the toast of the Caribbean
Barbados proved too strong for the Bahamas in the playoff between the Pool winners, running out 52-3 winners over a side who never let their heads drop despite the mounting scoreline. The victory saw Barbados join Canada and USA Eagles in Round 3b.
That left Argentina and Uruguay awaiting the winner of Round 2, which turned out to be Chile after they fought back from 22-14 down at half time to beat Paraguay 38-22 in Santiago before overcoming Brazil 57-13 in Sao Paulo.
Argentina have never lost to South American opposition, a tradition they maintained with a 60-13 defeat of Chile in Santiago and 26-0 victory over Uruguay in heavy rain in Buenos Aires in July 2006 to become the third qualifier for Rugby World Cup 2007.
Pumas and Canada march through
The Pumas joined France and Ireland in Pool D – Namibia and Georgia had yet to qualify – while Uruguay picked themselves up to beat Chile 43-15 with two tries from Nicolas Grille keeping their own hopes alive with a playoff again the Round 3a runner up.
That turned out to be USA after they lost 56-7 to Canada in Newfoundland, wing James Pritchard scoring three tries in a 36-point haul – bettering his 31 points in the 69-3 defeat of Barbados that broke Gareth Rees’ long standing national record.
The Eagles had already done enough to secure second place, beating Barbados 91-0 in a match which saw prop Martin Varga make an appearance as a 52-year-old replacement for the Caribbean nation.
Uruguay had not lost a home RWC qualifier since 1993, but the Eagles scored 39 unanswered points to triumph 42-13 in Montevideo to end that run. They then ran out 33-7 winners in California to qualify and join England, South Africa and Samoa in Pool A.
That left Uruguay having to negotiate the Répechage with Portugal, after they had beaten Morocco, standing in the way of their third successive World Cup. The more experienced Uruguayans were expected to win after Portugal took a seven-point lead to Montevideo.
Uruguay did win the return leg, but only 18-12 despite throwing everything they had in the hunt for the vital score that would give them an aggregate victory. Portugal, therefore, by virtue of one point, celebrated becoming the final qualifier for RWC 2007.