|Photo: Santiago Ramallo|
Half way through the Rugby World Cup qualifying match played this afternoon in Montevideo the USA was on the verge of defeat. The South Americans had the better of the visitors for the first fifty minutes before two quick tries scored by the USA Eagles put the favorites in front. With thre USA then appearaing to be heading towards victory Uruguay hit back with a well taken late try to set up a thrilling finish. The final score of 27-27 means there is everything to play for next weekend in Atlanta.
A highly competitive match of international rugby at the home of Uruguayan rugby, the Estadio Charrúa set up a winner takes all clash next Saturday at the Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. With Uruguay and the USA competing to a 27-27 draw the winner in Atlanta will be confirmed as Americas 2 and thus qualify for Rugby World Cup 2015 and become the fourth seed in Pool B which will feature South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and Asia 1, likely Japan.
Recent form and the personal playing for the two countries firmly suggested that the winner in Montevideo would be the USA. With the exception of the 2002 victory the South American side had struggled to compete against the USA and the comparative performances against other nations further indicated that the USA had developed to be notably superior to Los Teros.
Uruguay nonetheless came to play and play los Teros did. After Glasgow centre Folau Niua put the USA ahead 3-0 with a 2nd minute penalty goal Uruguay went ahead and the USA would only reclaim the lead in the second half and have it for a total of twenty-four minutes. Put differently Uruguay was either tied or ahead of the USA for fifty-four minutes of the match.
Uruguay equalized in the 4th minute with a well taken long range penalty goal from fly half Felipe Berchesi and a second in the 22nd minute put Uruguay ahead. Niua made it 6-6 in the 26th minute but Uruguay was ahead again three minute later with Berchesi adding his third. The match was then shaken up in the 33rd minute as Los Teros outside centre Joaquín Prada ran down the right hand touch line to score in the corner. After a detailed consultation the try was given and with Berchesi boot on target Uruguay was in command.
Berchesi added a fourth penalty goal before the USA found a way through to score a try on the stroke of half time. Northampton Saints second-rower Samu Manoa charged towards the try line and showed impressive strength to offload in a three man tackle and put hooker Phil Thiel over. With Niua adding the conversion the score sheet at the break was 19-13 in favor of Uruguay.
Questions were asked of the USA Eagles at the interval and the team came out differently but it was Uruguay who scored first with Berchesi adding a fifth penalty. Uruguay´s fly half had not kicked at 100% but had nonetheless been more accurate than Niua who was guilty of missing a simple first half penalty. To win, though, the USA would look towards big name professional players and Manoa cut the deficit with a well taken try in the 50th minute.
The Californian scored a try reminiscent of Australia´s Fijian born former test second-rower Radiki Samu as he took the ball from near the half way line and had the speed to get to the try line ahead of covering tacklers. Niua landed the conversion and four minutes later the USA took the lead and, seemingly, sealed the result with a try to Chris Wyles who linked well with Niua to run in from outside of the 22.
Twenty-six minutes remained and both teams looked to score further tries. The USA was superior around the field but the Uruguayan scrum was becoming increasingly dominant as the match wore on. With the USA scrum going backwards coach Mike Tolkin resorted to the bench but Uruguay only got better. Replacement Nick Wallace was yellow carded in the 72nd minute for repeatedly failing to engage correctly and with a one man advantage Uruguay´s best player of the match, Agustín Ormaechea combined with Alejandro Nieto to score in the left corner.
The try levelled the scores which mean a conversion from Berchesi would give Uruguay an unlikely victory. The 74th minute conversion sailed wide but there was time to score again. The USA, though, was the side with most ball in the final minutes. Rather than looking to win the match via a drop goal the North Americans went searching for a final try. The error proved costly as Los Teros were able to win another penalty from a scrum inside the Uruguayan 22 and clear for touch.
No further points were scored which saw the two countries draw for the first time in history. Uruguay will go into Atlanta with confidence but will need to complete a first ever away victory if it is to qualify as Americas 2. With Uruguay having played well this afternoon it will be seeking a repeat performance. The USA, in contrast, will believe that it cannot possibly produce an inferior performance. A number of combinations failed to deliver in Montevideo ad the places of some veterans will be questioned.
Tolkin will, indeed, need to address a number of questions ahead of the return match. On instance being the captaincy. Todd Clever was unhappy with the referee and after being replaced and Scott LaValla taking over the communication improved as did the USA pack. The veteran of 54 test caps was also unable to leave the same mark on the game as in years gone by. Similarly Mike Petri appeared to be off the pace while Chris Wyles made some woeful errors in kick returns. The places of the trio will therefore be questioned in the lead up to England & Wales 2015.
Although the result has the teams evenly poised the reality is that the USA is on top as wth home advantage and more time together the North Americans should put in a much different performance. Uruguay will thus, likely, have to enter repercharge. Were South America given equal rights as Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania and North America Uruguay would be a part of Rugby World Cup 2015 already.
South America, under the governing body name of CONSUR, is the only IRB defined region whose winner does not earn direct qualification to the Rugby World Cup. This is the case despite Uruguay having been ranked consistently higher than Africa´s leading qualifier - Namibia. Over Uruguay´s seven Rugby World Cup matches Los Teros won two and lost five. Namibia, in contrast is winless in fifteen matches and has never had to face a team comparable to the USA to qualify. Undoubtedly any side which can hold the USA to a draw ought to be considered to be of the calibre required to compete at Rugby World Cups. Logic implies that Uruguay ought to have equal chance to that of Namibia.
Uruguay: 1 Alejo Corral, 2 Arturo Avalo, 3 Oscar Duran, 4 Matías Palomeque, 5 Santiago Vilacega, 6 Juan Manuel Gaminara, 7 Diego Magno, 8 Alejandro Nieto, 9 Agustín Ormaechea, 10 Felipe Berchesi, 11 Jerónmio Etcheverry, 12 Andrés Vilaseca, 13 Joaquín Prada, 14 Leandro Leivas, 15 Gastón Mieres.