Thursday, December 20, 2012

Chile Progression and Uruguay Regression

Photo: RugbyNews Antofagasta to host 2013 IRB JWRT 
The year of 2012 continued the pattern of recent years for Chile and Uruguay. While Chile continues to grow both on and off the field Uruguay´s stagnation is showing few signs of changing. The two time Rugby World Cup participant, Uruguay, has been overtaken by a number of European nations. The likes of Georgia, Romania, Portugal, Russia and Spain can all make claims at having superior test sides than Uruguay. Perhaps Chile will also be able to say the same thing in the not to distant future. Indeed, the year of 2012 will be remembered for good reasons by the authorities and players of Chilean rugby while it will go down as a year with few good moments for Uruguayan rugby. 

Uruguay´s heartbreaking failure to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2007 could very well have been the turning point for Los Teros. Uruguay lost on aggregate by one point against Portugal. The Europeans has completed a genuine upset by qualifying but in reality Uruguay had let the Portuguese into France 2007 due to one of Uruguay´s leading players committing the unforgivable sin of being sent off. Secondrower Juan Bado was one of Uruguay´s leading players and was a professional playing in France. He was, however red carded in the first few minutes of the match which meant Uruguay had to play not only with one player less than Portugal and win but it also had to do so without one of its superior players. Uruguay would win the game 18-12 but since Portugal had won the first 12-5 the combined result was a 24-23 aggregate win for Portugal. The result has been catastrophic for Uruguayan rugby. Juan Bado was playing in France in the lower divisions but others were higher. Rodrigo Capó Ortega was playing for Castres in the Top 14 and continues todo so but he is on his own. Uruguay has no other professional player in an elite level competition. Considering Uruguay defeated Georgia 24-12 in Rugby World Cup 2003 the current state of only having Capó Ortega as an elite player could perhaps be best described as an epic failure. It means that Uruguay´s transfer of player production to professionalism is inferior to that of Namibia. 

It has unfortunately seen Los Teros drop from the level of a decade ago.  The qualification series for Rugby World Cup 2003 was ideal from a South American perspective. Uruguay and Chile competed against Canada and the USA in Round 4 of the Americas Qualification and all four nations faced each other in home and away matches. Argentina did not participate as it´s Quarter Final placing in 1999 meant it was an automatic qualifier. Uruguay´s performance in the 2003 qualifying series was highly notable with Los Teros winning three of its six matches. This may not appear significant but it was. Uruguay defeated Chile 34-23 and the USA 10-9 in home matches and narrowly lost 25-23 against Canada. It also defeated Chile 10-6 in an away match. The results meant Uruguay qualified for Rugby World Cup 2003 as Americas 2 while the USA would have to qualify via repercharge. At and around this time Uruguay was having a greater success in exporting players to professional leagues than today. 

Uruguay´s results at international level since Rugby World Cup 2007 underline the regression of Los Teros. It has been defeated in all outings against the USA and usually by significant margins. The same period has seen the USA improve significantly. While the USA lost by over 50 points against Ireland in 1999 it lost by twelve against the Irish in 2011. The growth has come about due to a highly successful agenda which sees more people playing rugby and doing so at a higher level in the USA, in Sevens and abroad. While Uruguay has Capó Ortega the USA has Taku Ngwenya,  Scott LaValla, Chris Wyles and captain Todd Clever getting plenty of game time at the elite level and many others playing reguarly in second division competitions in England, France and Italy. 

Not only is Capó Ortega a lone ranger as a club player but he has also not played for Uruguay for over three years. Problems with the URU rather than club commitments have been the overriding factor. A dispute between the URU and Carrasco Polo Club saw Uruguay go highly underprepared into it the Rugby World Cup 2011 qualifiers. Uruguay drew against Romania at home but was well defeated in Bucharest which saw Romania claim the Rugby World Cup 2011 Final Place Play-Off. Since then uruguay has faced Portugal, Russia and Spain for mixed results. Uruguay defeated Portugal 16-9 in Portugal but lost 16-13 against Spain on the same tour in 2011. In 2012 Uruguay lost 29-9 against Romania and 19-13 against Russia in Bucharest but defeated Portugal 35-7. However at home it lost 32-25 against Portugal. How did Uruguay go from defeating Spain 27-15 and Georgia 24-12 in Rugby World Cup´s 1999 and 2003 to this?

While Juan Bado´s madness cost Uruguay extremely at the heart of the problem is money. Uruguay´s failure  to have more players playing abroad is no doubt connected to its failure to appear in the previous two Rugby World Cup´s. More worrying is that its chances of qualifying for England 2015 are lower than its chances for 2011. The system does not favor South America at all and there is little chance that Canada and the USA will not qualify as Americas 1 and Americas 2. The only doubt is who will be better as currently they are extremely evenly matched, perhaps more so than ever before. Uruguay will face Chile and Brazil in May 2013 in Montevideo with the winner  facing the loser of the North American matches, probably in November 2013. The winner will be Americas 2 and the loser will enter repercharge. With Europe, like the Americas, only having two allocated spots the chances of Uruguay succeeding are very slim. Should it get past Asia 2 (possibly Hong Kong) it would  face the third best team of Belgium, Georgia, Portugal, Romania, Russia and Spain who would have defeated Africa 2 (possibly Madagascar) with the winner earning its right to play in Pool A of Rugby World Cup 2015. It is a tough ask considering the state of Uruguayan rugby compared to the above mentioned Europeans. Georgia and Romania are highly likely to be Europe 1 and 2 with all of Portugal, Spain and Russia being genuine contenders to finish third. Only Belgium can really be discounted at this stage but the superiority of Europe´s third tier to that of others is clear as Belgium was too strong for Asia´s second best side, Hong Kong, earlier this month. 

The URU needs to face such European sides more often - both at home and abroad. The lack of money means it is just not possible. Uruguay had to cancel a training camp in November due to a lack of funds and, similarly, Uruguay was not able to host Tonga in 2010 because it could not provide the accommodation costs to host the Pacific Islanders. Chile hosted Tonga and did very well, losing 32-30. The emerging differences between Chile and Uruguay are quite striking. Quite simply Uruguayan regression has taken place at the same time as Chilean progression. While Uruguay has been able to deliver results on the field and has a lack of money to see progress off it Chile is preparing to host the 2013 IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy. Earlier this week it was confirmed that the event will take place in the Northern Chilean city of Antofagasta.
The tournament which is the Under 20 B World Cup will feature teams from all of the IRB´s regions and will be the second consecutive tournament in the Americas. The USA hosted the tournament in 2012 with the host nation winning. Both Canada and Chile also participated with  Chile defeating Russia 53-19 and Canada 43-31. Canada defeated Zimbabwe 66-45 in an otherwise forgetful campaign. While Chile performed well Uruguay did not participate in 2012. The 2013 IRB Junior Rugby World Trophy will be played from May 29 - June 09 and will mark five years since it hosted the event. In the 2008 edition Uruguay defeated Chile 20-8 in the final. Today, however there is reason to believe that Chile has not only closed the gap but may well be superior. Chile has seemingly taken over at the junior level. History was made in 2012 as for the first time ever a Chilean team defeated an Argentine team at the national level. The Chilean under 20 side defeated the Argentine under 19 side 33-14 in La Reina. 
The IRB not only confirmed Antofagasta as the venue but it also confirmed that both Chile and Uruguay will compete in the 2013 event as will Canada, Italy, Japan, Namibia, Tonga and Portugal.    Italy and Japan are likely to be considered favorites but the real story is over the event returning to Chile, a nation that has never played in a Rugby World Cup. All others have with Canada, Italy, Japan and Namibia all having played at every tournament in the professional era. The decision underlines the IRB´s faith in Chile to deliver a strong event as well as the progress that has been made both on and off the field. 

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