When Uruguay and Chile meet, the stakes are always high, but this Saturday’s encounter at the Estadio Charrua in Montevideo is shaping up to be more important than most.
As well as a straight shootout for the Sudamérica Rugby A Championship title, for the winners there’s the added prize of a ticket to the next stage of Rugby World Cup 2019 regional qualifying.
Given their past record against Chile – they have won 37 of the 49 previous outings – and home advantage, Uruguay go into the match as overwhelming favourites. However, Los Teros loose forward Diego Magno, a veteran of 69 international caps, is not taking anything for granted.
“It will be a very tough game against a very good team,” says Magno, his country’s most capped player. “They have a good pair of centres and the guys from the sevens team are back as well as their foreign-based players. I understand that lock Pablo Huete will also be playing and that is a bonus for them.
"Fortunately, we are playing at home, where we haven’t lost to them since 1971.”
Since then Chile have visited Uruguay’s capital 18 times and left home with nothing to show for their efforts. Yet Chilean winger Felipe Brangier says they travel in hope of causing an upset this weekend.
“The dream to go to Japan 2019 is very important for me, more so as I am reaching the latter stages of my career. We are full of hope and we’ve worked very well recently,” said the 28-year-old.
Games between Uruguay and Chile stretch back to 1948, and it is not unusual for the two to meet in the Rugby World Cup qualifying process.
The first instance was in 1993 when Los Teros won 14-6, but ultimately failed to make it to the tournament in South Africa.
Uruguay qualified for Rugby World Cup 1999 after they followed up a 20-14 victory over Chile at the Carrasco Polo Club with victories over Portugal and Morocco.
Four years later, in 2002, the qualifying process was longer, with home and away matches against Chile, USA and Canada. Los Teros lost 10-6 in Santiago and went to lose the other two games on the road, before coming home to beat Canada, USA and, in probably one of the best Uruguayan performances ever, Chile 34-23, to qualify directly for RWC 2003.
In 2006, Chile were beaten 43-15 but Uruguay missed out in the final repechage game against Portugal, as they did in 2010 when, after beating the Chileans 36-19, they fell at the last hurdle to Romania.
Uruguay’s successful RWC 2015 qualifying process included a 55-19 win against Los Condores.
For Magno, there is a lot of responsibility lying on his team’s shoulders. “As much as I remember going to watch my heroes Pablo Lemoine and Nicolás Brignoni, I know we are playing as much for today as for the future, with lots of young players coming to see us.
“Saturday will only be about Chile, but we can’t understate the importance of qualifying for the Rugby World Cup in terms of advancing our programmes and growing the game.”
With both teams having won their two previous matches against Paraguay and Brazil, in the event of a draw Chile will qualify for the Americas 2 play-off against the loser of the two-match, home and away series between the USA and Canada because of their superior point differential (+64 compared to +40).
On Friday, Brazil will host Paraguay in the other game in the final round of the Sudamerica Rugby A Championship. Both teams lost their respective games against Chile and Uruguay and the winner will secure third place.