Sunday, June 22, 2014

IRB Nations Cup: Uruguay defeat Russia to eye World Cup Spot

Photo URU
Uruguay took a big step towards qualifying for a first Rugby World Cup since 2003 as Los Teros defeated Russia 13-6 in a final round IRB Nations Cup match in Bucharest this afternoon. The important victory in Romania not only gives Uruguay the upper hand ahead of Rugby World Cup qualification matches later on this year but it, importantly, will see Uruguay ranked higher than Russia in the IRB World Rankings which will give Uruguay the favorable draw for the Final Place Play-Off should it indeed come down to Uruguay v Russia as expected. 

The updated IRB World Rankings set to be released at midday GMT on Monday will see Russia drop from 63.43 rankings points to 62.26. Uruguay, on the other hand, is to rise from 61.74 to 62.91 rankings points and therefore be ranked higher than Russia. The teams are thus to switch positions with Uruguay moving into 19th and Russia dropping to 20th. 

The importance of this change is simply extraordinary. The higher ranked of the two Final Place Play-Off participants is to have home advantage in the return fixture. Such a scenario is what Uruguay desires as the South Americans believe that it is an easier process. In 2011 Uruguay hosted Romania before facing the Eastern Europeans away and having a much tougher time. The same was true earlier this year in the play-off for Americas 2 against the USA.

Russia qualified for Rugby World Cup 2011 and had a respectable campaign. Despite being winless the world's largest country came very close against the USA and scored impressive tries against all of Australia, Ireland and Italy. Since the tournament Russia has not achieved the same caliber of results that it enjoyed in the years leading into New Zealand 2011. It is now on the verge of elimination at the hands of Uruguay and lacks home support to give it an edge. 

Before the possible match up between Uruguay and Russia both teams need to win intercontinental matches. Uruguay, as Americas 3, will take-on Hong Kong which finished second in the Asian Five Nations to become Asia 2. Russia, in contrast, is awaiting the runner-up of the 2014 Africa Cup which will involve Kenya, Madagascar, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

The winners of the two regional play-offs will meet in the Final Place Play-Off with the winner of the home and away series qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2015. This team will enter Pool A and face Australia, England, Wales and Oceania 1. The Oceania 1 participant is to be confirmed next Saturday as Fiji hosts the Cook Islands in Lautoka. 

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