Brazil’s ‘Amazonas’ beat the odds as excitement builds for World Cup opener

Samba rhythms swayed from the loudspeakers at Post Office Road on Thursday night as Brazil’s ‘Amazonas’ continued their improbable journey towards next month’s women’s Rugby League World Cup.

A 12-4 warm-up defeat to France was a more than creditable return for a team playing in only their second international match, and their first since a thumping 48-0 win over Argentina in 2019.

Prop Franciny Amaral capped a robust performance by barging over for her team’s only try midway through the second half and her team-mates’ celebrations betrayed excitement over the extraordinary experience that is to come.

Brazil are set to face England in the opening match of the women’s tournament next Tuesday at Headingley, where an expected crowd of over 16,000 will break the northern hemisphere women’s rugby attendance record for either code.

“I don’t think any of these girls have played a match in front of more than 100 people,” the Amazonas’ Australian coach, Paul Grundy, told the PA news agency.

“How do you prepare these girls for an occasion like that? It’s been difficult, but I guess you’ve got to rip the Band-Aid off. These girls tend to take stuff on, and I think the best way is just to go out there and attack it.”

Since its formation in 2018, gathering Brazil’s national team for training sessions has proved almost impossible, with players spread across the length and breadth of the country and internal flight fees wiping out much of the squad’s modest budget.

The players, including captain Maria Graf, a personal trainer in Florianopolis, must undertake bus journeys of over 24 hours to meet in Sao Paulo, and have taken unpaid leave to compete in a tournament that they hope will continue to boost the status of the game back home.

“We have only been able to meet up as a squad on a couple of occasions because it takes so long to get everybody together,” said Graf, one of three survivors in the squad from their only previous international against Argentina.

“Thinking about playing our first World Cup match in front of such a big crowd is awesome. We need more attention for our sport and the crowd is not a problem for us, it is a pleasure that so many will be watching the game.”

Brazil also face Canada and Papua New Guinea in Group A, while France take on Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands in Group B of the eight-team tournament.