Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chile could be crucial to Rugby World Cup 2015

Sergio Valdes and Pablo Huerte leave after a victory for Pau in the Pro d2
Uruguay´s quest to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2015 has added sting. Los Teros were very unfortunate to now qualify for Rugby World Cup 2007 after losing to Portugal by a single point on aggregate. The loss came about thank, in large part, to Uruguay playing close to a full 80 minutes in the second match without a player. The former French based professional Juan Bardo was red carded early on in Montevideo which made it easier for the Portuguese. Even without Bardo Uruguay won the match but it was heartbreak as a single point separated the sides. Four years on Uruguay made it to the Final Place Play-Off for Rugby World Cup 2011 and after defeating Asia 2 qualifier, Kazakhstan, Los Teros took on Europe 3 in a home and away series. Europe 3 was Romania who had made the poor decision to not select players based outside of Romania for internatioal rugby in the first half of the Europea section of qualification. As such it finished behind Georgia and Russia and had to advance through repercharge. After defeating Tunisia Romania would face Uruguay and go on to qualify for the Rugby World Cup. Had Romania selected its top players from the start it is highly likely that Russia, an easier opponent, would have been Europe three.

Uruguay is now on a path which can be defined as third time lucky but, unlike in the past two campaigns, it is far from being the clear favorite to advance from South America. Standing in Uruguay´s way are Brazil and Chile, to teams that have both shown tremendous progress in recent years. Brazil´s progress has been clear but the Portuguese speaking nation remains clearly fourth in South America. Chile, in contrast, can make a claim to being very close to the level of Uruguay and are serious contenders to knock-over Los Teros. Like Uruguay, Chile has players exposed to European club rugby. Indeed, the twenty-seven man Condores squad for the South American Championship is one to be taken very seriously. It features players based outside of Chile who play in France and the USA. The Stade Dijon prop Sergio de la Fuente joins former Pablo Huerte as the French based players while Francisco Deformes plays his rugby for Old Blue in New York. Huerte has been playing in France for Pau in the Pro d2 and previously played in New Zealand for Tasman. His move to France saw him link up with Sergio Valdes who is the ommission from Chile´s squad. Valdes could face Uruguay but wll miss the match against Brazil this Saturday due to Pau´s key match in the Pro d2. With the club closing in on winning promotion to the Top 14 Valdes will unfortunately miss out on playing against Brazil.

With neither Capó Ortega nor Valdes featuring the biggest players from both Uruguay and Chile are out of the South American Championship. Brazil´s most notable player, Fernando Portugal, is also out after having  left the field injured against Mexico last Saturday. With or without these players the show must go on and the no excuses will matter as, ultimately, only one team can advance to face the North American runner-up. Chile´s accomplishments in 2012 suggest that the team today is better than prevously as the under 20 side defeated Argentina´s under 19 side and after having impressed at the IRB Junior World Trophy Chile was awarded the hosting rights for the 2013 edition of tournament.

Rugby in Chile is on the up and there are strong reasons to believe that the 2013 South American Championship could be there for the taking for Los Condores. From a global standpoint it is in the interests of Chile to succeed against both Brazil and Uruguay to qualify as South America 1 and take on Canada or the USA. While it is always in the interests of the global game to have new teams doing well this time around it is different due to the nature of the qualification for Rugby World Cup 2015. With Fiji and Japan both certain to qualify as Oceania 1 and Asia 1 the chances of having a debutant at Rugby World Cup 2015 must come from one of Africa, Europe or South America. Canada and the USA are all but certain to both participate as are Georgia and Romania. Africa is less clear cut but the most probable outcome is for Namibia to again qualify but to do so it must wn all its remaining matches.

This being the case then the teams in repercharge would likely be Hong Kong, Madagascar, Russia and the South American qualifier. As such, like 2011, it will likely come down to the European v American team and a final between a European and American nation would mean that the only chance of Rugby World Cup 2015 having a debutant would be if Chile could topple Russia. Fans of the global game should therefore pay close attention to Chile over the following two weekends as it needs to defeat Brazil and Uruguay or it will be eliminated. North Americans should also pay close attention as Canada found out in 2012 that Chile´s under 20 side is a side to be taken very seriously.

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