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Uruguay and Chile sit top of the Sudamérica Rugby A Championship 2017 table after the opening round of matches following Los Teros' 45-19 win over Paraguay in wet and windy Asunción, and Chile edging Brazil 15-10 in Santiago.
With home games to come in the next round against the two beaten sides, the Sudamérica Rugby title – and the chance to progress further on the road to Japan 2019 – could well be on the line when Uruguay and Chile meet in Montevideo in the final round of fixtures on 27 May.
This year's Sudamérica Rugby champions will go through to play the loser of the Americas 1 play-off between USA and Canada, which takes place home and away on 24 June and 1 July, for the right to compete at RWC 2019 as the Americas 2 qualifier.
After a delayed start due to heavy rain, Uruguay controlled the game for the first hour and built up a 40-0 lead, before letting in Los Yacares for three consolation tries in the latter stages.
Speedy winger Gaston Mieres scored a first-half hat-trick despite the heavy conditions underfoot as the Uruguayan pack laid a solid platform up front.
Paraguay conceded two tries, in the 12th and 19th minutes, when they were reduced to 14 men after a yellow card was brandished to Omar Rojas. Uruguay struck immediately from the scrum, forcing a penalty try, before Mieres grabbed the first of his three tries.
Uruguay’s third try came through the forwards, hooker Martin Espiga dotting down at the back of a powerful driving maul. But Mieres had the final say of the half when he dotted down twice more, his second a wonderful team score, to hand his side a 33-0 lead.
Los Yacares started the second half with renewed vigour and it took until the 52nd minute for their try-line to be breached again, flanker Gonzalo Soto touching down at the back of an advancing scrum after replacing injured captain Alejandro Nieto at number eight.
With the victory in the bag, Uruguay sat back and allowed Paraguay to dictate terms, and winger Héctor Gayoso finally gave the home crowd at the Estadio Héroes de Curupaytí something to cheer about when he squeezed over in the corner for his side's first points.
After Soto grabbed his second for Uruguay, Paraguay scored twice more in the closing minutes through forwards Luis Mauger and Martín Sitjar
With World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Ian Campbell, aged 89, honoured before the game – Chile’s Player of the Year will now receive the Ian Campbell Trophy – Los Condores managed a hard-fought win against Brazil that was all about character.
After an early exchange of penalties in the first quarter, France-based prop Ramón Ayarza used his strength to break through the first line of defence before offloading to the equally impressive Anton Petrowisch, who in turn fed winger Franco Velarde for a try in the left corner with 31 minutes gone.
Seven minutes later, scrum-half Jan Hassenlechner’s kick was charged down and winger De Wet van Niekerk scored under the posts for Brazil. Moisés Duque knocked over the simplest of conversions, to add to his earlier penalty, to hand Os Tupis a 10-8 half-time lead.
After an error-strewn first half where defences were on top, the game followed a similar pattern in the second period and no further points were scored, partly due to some poor goal-kicking from both sides, until the 75th minute when Los Condores were rewarded for their patience with a try for hooker Tomás Dussailant, which was converted for a final scoreline of 15-10 in the home side’s favour.
The result sees Chile gain revenge for their lacklustre performance against Brazil in the Americas Rugby Championship in São Paulo earlier this year. More importantly, it keeps Los Cóndores’ dream of making it all the way to Japan 2019 alive.
Uruguay and Chile will both pick up rating points on the back of their wins when the World Rugby Rankings are updated at 12 noon on Monday, but will stay unchanged in 21st and 29th place respectively. Los Teros are set for a fractional improvement to move to 61.43 points, while Chile will be just over six tenths better off, on 54.56 points.
Brazil will suffer a two-place fall to 33rd with the Netherlands and the Czech Republic the beneficiaries, while Paraguay will remain in 38th place but with only two hundredths of a point now separating them from Sri Lanka.