Tuesday, March 18, 2014

RWC Qualifier: Q&A with Ignacio Chans

Ignacio Chans
Uruguay was one of the biggest winners from a public standpoint at Rugby World Cup 2003. The South American nation´s victory over Georgia in Sydney was applauded both by spectators at the venue and by members of the press. It saw Uruguay retain its record of winning a Rugby World Cup match after the South Americans had defeated Spain in 1999. Since then, Uruguay has not returned to the World Cup. It was frustratingly close in qualifying for France 2007 and missed out at the expense of Romania for New Zealand 2011. To better understand the situation and the possibility of Uruguay qualifying for England & Wales 2015 Argentina 2023 has been in contact with Uruguayan rugby expert Ignacio Chans.

PT: Uruguay had good results in 2013 against Brazil, Chile and Spain but was less fortunate in the IRB Tbilisi Cup. How is Uruguay placed now?

IC: The international matches in 2013 provided a very realistic indication of where Uruguay is today. There were some victories that were more or less convincing against Brazil and Chile in the South American Championship - rivals that and ranked lower than Uruguay. In addition there were promising matches against Los Jaguares, matches in the Tbilisi Cup against Ireland A and the South Africa Presidents XV (selection of the Currie Cup), and in the Americas Rugby Championship against Canada A and the USA Selects. In all cases it was close, and the difference to other occassions is that Uruguay had previously played on a level playing field, but could not defeat anybody, which served as a reminder that the quality of the Tier Two is still above Uruguay.

In that sense, the 22-0 defeat to Georgia in the Tbilisi Cup was suggestive: along with the game against Los Jaguars in the Americas Rugby Championship, the two were the only instances in which Uruguay could not play as equals. The Teros aim to approach the level of Georgia, the United States, Canada or Romania, but they remain adrift and as the IRB November window showed, Uruguay is closer to the level of Spain, Portugal and Russia.

PT: The USA has improved significantly since losing to Uruguay in 2002. How can Uruguay win this time around?

IC: Honestly, it is very difficult. Uruguay has evolved considerably, everything that allows amateurism, but the United States has grown much more, above all the ability to have places for the best USA players in major world leagues. If professional rugby is moving like a Formula 1 car, Uruguay is a sports car. Agile and modern, but the distances are getting bigger.

PT: What is your prediction for this Saturday´s match in Montevideo?

IC: I believe the United States will prevail. Four years ago, in this same fixture, a strange game unfolded: in the first leg in Montevideo the Eagles took a big lead into half time, but in confidence, Uruguay fought back and rallied to the final score of 22-27. A week later was another story, and the U.S. was able to control proceedings to win 27-6. 

I think Uruguay's hopes are there: make use of home advantage, impose conditions on their game, and put ting the U.S. under pressure pressure is a priority. If all of this is given, Uruguay could get a result in Montevideo, and put the U.S. under pressure for the return leg. In short, the difference between the two teams is significant, but not enough to eliminate the possibility of a surprise. Of course, victory would be a notable feat.

PT: Winning on aggregate will see Uruguay qualify while a loss will mean it will enter repercharge, firstly against Asia 2 and secondly likely against Russia. Is beating Russia the ultimate goal?

IC: Without explicitly saying so, that's the idea of the vast majority of people in Uruguayan rugby. Even the URU, which organized the domestic season to direct all the resources at prioritizing the test team ahead of the Rugby World Cup repercharge. In a world in which the differences are increasingly pronounced between  rugby teams from different levels, as experienced enough to include Italy and Scotland in the Six Nations - it is a sound point and it is prudent to focus the attention there.

PT:  How is the mood under Pablo Lemoine´s coaching regime and with the URU´s new stadium and facilities?

IC: Lemoine has achieved what had failed to transpire: have three years of continuity in charge of the national side. This has assured a sense of play, and a team that, although being young, it has already been together for several years earning caps together with the blue shirt. There have been friction between players , coaches and officials, especially before the Charrúa project (December 2012) and after the 2013 American Rugby Championship. But things have smoothed over, because it is understood that the path to the World Cup is already very difficult, and while walking it with internal problems it becomes downright impossible .

The Estadio Charrúa project has helped significantly: Uruguay now has a High Performance Center with a court, gym, a medical clinic, local offices and the headquarters of the URU. It was the reason behind the first major conflict: players did not demand money but, rather, minimum conditions to face professional or semi professional rivals . This was achieved and the result was seen on the field. Although now, to compete with rivals like the U.S., it is clear that we need to take things up several notches .

PT: A lot of talk surrounds Rodrigo Capó Ortega´s non-involvement. Will he be back for repercharge, if Uruguay misses out on direct qualification?

IC: The return of Capó to the test side has been the great "soap opera" in recent years in the national team. Together with Lemoine they are the two most important figures in the history of the Uruguayan rugby, but their relationship was never good, especially because of disagreements on how to watch the selection process, which led to Lemoine resigning from Los Teros in 2005. He returned, but the relationship was never 100% and when Lemoine returned for the final time as a player in the 2011 qualification series, it was Capó who stepped down.

Lemoine confessed to RugbyNews confessed to that in late 2012 he has spoken with Capó to offer him a return to the test team and that Castres had agreed. After the win against Chile, and confirmation of the following Rugby World Cup qualification process, Capó said in an interview with the newspaper El Pais that he intended to play a World Cup with Uruguay, and that's why he wanted to play in the qualifying matches. However, when he cited for the game against Spain in November he rejected the call, and so with a very logical explanation, he was about to be a father in France.

The URU is clear that a play-off against Russia is most likely, so the goal has been bookmarked to return for that series. Before that many hours of diplomatic talks are required, trying to reach a common position that permits the return of most elite Uruguayan rugby player.

PT: The game time and form of Agustín Ormaechaea for Mont de Marsan has been very noteworthy. Will he play and who else from abroad will face the USA?

IC: Agustín is doing very well. He scored two tries for Mont de Marsan in the loss agains Bourgoin on Saturday, and despite his team falling away from the top two positions, the club is very pleased with him.: He arrived as a team´s third choice scrum-half and he is already first choice, and signed a new contract for two years. He has a great future in professional rugby, and is a vital component for Los Teros. He arrived in Montevideo on Sunday together with prop Mario Sagario (Massy, Fédérale 1, France), fullback Jerónimo Etcheverry (Valpolicella, Serie A1, Italy), fly half Felipe Berchesi (Badía, Serie A1, Italy) and prop Alejo Corral (SIC, Argentina).

PT:  Lastly, should Argentina host Rugby World Cup 2023?
Completely! As you say in your blog, it is justified that what is a top 10 nation could, at last, host the tournament. It depends on the IRB and Argentine rugby to take on this enormous responsibility. 

Thanks for your time Ignacio. Gracias and good luck to Los Teros against the USA.

Ignacio Chans is a Journalist in Uruguay. He is the Editor for El Observador () and Director or RugbyNews. He can be followed on twitter at @ignaciochans  

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