Thursday, September 18, 2014

RWC Qualifier: Russia v Uruguay Quickly Approaching

In nine days time Russia will host a vital international rugby match against Uruguay. The fixture is the first of two between the countries to determine who will secure the final place at Rugby World Cup 2015. For Uruguay it is a third straight repecharge final while Russia is involved for the first time after it has previously been involved exclusively in European qualification. With both countries being previous Rugby World Cup participants and have split results in recent times the two match series promises to be too close to call. 

Russia qualified directly for Rugby World Cup 2011 as Europe 2. The world's largest country did so ahead of Romania who had undertaken the policy of resticting test selection to players based at home. Consequently the understrength Oaks were beaten and struggled back to finish third behind Georgia and Russia to enter the repecharge phase. 

Having seen off opposition sides from Europe and Africa Romania advanced to the repecharge final to face Uruguay who had been too strong for Asia's regional runner-up, Kazakhstan. Four years on a similar situation has presented itself. The difference is that Uruguay is raked higher than the European opponent and will therefore play the first fixture away and host the return match two weeks later. 

Members of the Uruguayan press in addition to union officials have received the change with open arms. They believe that it is an advantage to get the away fixture out of the way and then look to qualify by winning at home. Uruguay certainly has experience in this area. Los Teros have pushed both Romania and the USA in home fixtures only to then lose the return qualification matches. It is hoped that with the reversal Uruguay will have a stronger chance of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 2003. 

In order to end the drought Uruguay will face Russia on Saturday September 27 in the rugby heartland of Krasnoyarsk in northern Asia. With a flight time of 4.5 hours from Moscow the Siberian city is located at a similar distance to that of Montevideo to Lima, Peru. With Madrid being a 12 hour flight from Montevideo and Moscow being 5 hours from Madrid the travel factor cannot be underestimated. 

Uruguay's squad for the Krasnoyarsk visit sees the South Americans at full-strength. Of note is the return of former French champion Rodrigo Capó Ortega for the first time since 2009 but also a pack that ought to provide solid go-forward ball and a halves pairing of players as good as Uruguay can said to have had at any time over the past decade. In Agustín Ormaechea and Felipe Berchesi Uruguay has a respected combination which troubled the USA earlier in the year but, notably, missed the June win over Russia in Romania.

Extremely poor discipline let Russia down as four players were yellow carded. Los Teros's superiority up front frustrated the Europeans who were unable to score a try. The 13-6 win featured a halves combination of Guillermo Lijtenstein and Rodrigo Silva, two players considered reserves. Silva is expected to be on the bench in Krasnoyarsk while Lijtenstein will not feature with Ormaechea to instead be covered by Alejo Durán. 

Two weeks after the match in Siberia Montevideo's rugby stadium, the Estadio Charrua will host the return fixture. The October 11 date is one day short of a full twelve months before the England v Play-Off Winner match to be played in Manchester on the final day of pool play. In addition to facing England the winner, on aggregate, will take-on Wales, Australia and Fiji in the pool of death. 

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