Sunday, November 17, 2013

Uruguay pip Spain as they continue their quest to return to the RWC

Los Teros cerraron el 2013 con triunfo en casa
Photo URU
Whilst the weekend was a bad one for their neighbours Argentina, the 2nd ranked South American team Uruguay won an important match with Spain in Montevideo, coming from 15-6 behind until Gaston Mieres got a match winner converted by Agustin Ormaechea in the 73rd minute.

The fixture was a repeat of Los Teros first ever game in the Rugby World Cup in 1999 where the Uruguayans dominated scrums and ran away with a win.

Since then the opposition Spain have never returned to the World Cup, however they have remained a solid force in the ENC and notably with a mass legion of French players with some Spanish qualifications coming into the side in 2012 finished second in the table.

2013 has been more difficult for them however as they weakened their team getting rid of the French professionals on moral grounds and ended up finishing bottom this year.

The threat of relegation from the ENC next year resulted in panic measures with their coach Bryce Bevin getting sacked after just one season and brought back not all but a few of a French players. This has meant they are stronger for this year's November tour and they had little problem beating Chile in Santiago comfortably 26-3 last weekend.

Crédito: LaSelecció
Given their relative strengthening this makes the win for Uruguay more significant. The side's aim in the short term is to reach the World Cup again in 2015 after a 12 year absence. The Spanish visit was a good opportunity for the team to test themselves against a standard not too far off from that they will likely have to be facing in a Repechage playoff probably with Russia.

In 2007 Uruguay were unlucky to miss out on the World Cup to Portugal. In 2011 they came up against an experienced Romanian outfit that had surprisingly slipped out of the top two ENC places and were really stronger than that and won the two legged playoff easily. Russia back then looked promising, especially with some great attacking backs, to help them get to their first World Cup.

However since then Russia under new coach Kingsley Jones (who has been curiously been spending a lot of time away from the side coaching low league teams in the Premiership or Pro12), they have regressed and pretty steadily.

The Bears were not particularly impressive last year, but this month, alarmingly they only beat a University side through a last minute try and were dominated massively by Japan. Don't be fooled by the scoreline of just 40 points to 13, Japan had virtually all territory and possession and only some ridiculously sloppy finishing stopped the game being a 60 or 70 point drubbing.

Despite their poor form under Kingsley though, Russia are still very much the most likely opponent for Uruguay in the Repechage matches. They built a healthy 9 point lead for 3rd place in the ENC behind Georgia and Romania who are both nailed on for Europe 1 and 2. This drop in fortunes for Russia gives Uruguay an increased hope of reaching 2015.

The matches will be close of course and Uruguay will be underdogs and will need to beware of the potential long range danger that players like Vladimir Ostroushko and Vasily Artemyev possess and what did for Portugal in Lisbon this year. But they will have a much better chance than it seemed in 2011. Although one disadvantage Uruguay have is less top fixtures, whereas Russia play two PNC sides each year, Uruguay have only one ENC opposition a year in November.

If Russia fail to get the 3rd ENC spot then the match ups with likely either Portugal or Spain would increase Uruguay's hopes even more. Considering the former is currently phasing in several new youngsters from the old guard of their 2007 World Cup and having just beaten Spain. Even less likely is Uruguay beating USA to avoid the Repechage.

The next 12 months are big ones for Uruguay and this win is a good start to their tricky but possible task ahead.

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