Sunday, August 3, 2014

Rugby World Cup 2015: Uruguay or Russia to play in Pool A

Image A Rugby Life
The last remaining vacancy at Rugby World Cup 2015 will be taken by either Uruguay or Russia after the two countries completed home victories on Saturday. Wins over Hong Kong and Zimbabwe mean that the twentieth and final position at Rugby World Cup 2015 will see either a fourth country from the Americas or a ninth from Europe participating. The winner on aggregate will qualify for Pool A and face Australia, Fiji and both both nations, England and Wales, in a demanding schedule.

Rugby fans in Siberia were treated to a rare home fixture. With long, harsh  winters dominating the rugby calendar locations such as Krasnoyarsk and and Kemerovo Oblast been off limits for international fixtures. The complicated nature of dates and international windows has indeed seen Russia playing matches against non-European teams in places such as England and Wales. 

Matches against European opposition in the European Nations Cup (ENC) have been played in south-western Russia where the winter is less severe. They have, however, tended to be played at venues such as Sochi were the sport of rugby has a low profile and consequently attendances have been poor. 

The Rugby Union of Russia made sure than the rare home test match in the summer would be in Siberia and the players and union were rewarded as a strong crowd was on hand. If authorities within Russia could work with FIRA and the IRB there is every reason to believe that regular home internationals could be played in the summer. It would involve a severely altered calendar and possibly moving European Nations Cup matches or having a new Tier Two event like that the USA has proposed previously.

Russia is now two matches away from appearing in a second Rugby World Cup and a second in as many tournaments. In 2011 it continued the pattern of each Rugby World Cup having at least one debutant since the first event in 1987. 2015 is to now break this trend as there will be no country involved that has not done so previously.

There is, nonetheless, one country that did not play in Rugby World Cup 2011 that could play in 2015. That country is Uruguay. The South Americans set up a repecharge final against the Russians in September and October by completing a 28-3 victory against Hong Kong in Montevideo. Similar to the match in Krasnoyarsk the crowd on hand was of note which underlines the growth of the sport in both countries and also the importance of the Rugby World Cup.

Uruguay's victory was hard-fought with no tries being scored in the first half and miss-fired penalty attempts seeing Los Teros holding just a 6-3 lead at the interval. Two second half tries by Felipe Bercheshi and Diego Magno and improved goalkicking saw the South Americans control play and with Hong Kong's scrum disintegrating Uruguay was on top.

Russia had been put under pressure by Zimbabwe to the extent that the scores were 13-10 in the second half before Russia completed a 23-15 victory. Both Hong Kong and Zimbabwe therefore troubled the opposition but the home sides were able to see out their respective matches to confirm the expected Play-Off Final of Uruguay v Russia. The first of two matches will now be played in Russia on September 27/28 and the second on October 11/12 in Montevideo.

The delight of securing qualification for the Rugby World Cup will soon be followed by careful preparation as the task of facing Wales in Cardiff and England in Manchester is to be compounded by also taking-on both Australia and Rugby World Cup 2007 Quarter Finalists Fiji. The Play-Off Winner has been allocated just three days rest between facing Fiji and England.  

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