Uruguay ready for USA test
Uruguay welcome the USA to the Charrua Stadium in Montevideo on Saturday for the first leg of the home-and-away play-off that will decide the Americas 2 qualifier for Rugby World Cup 2015.
A place in Pool B awaits the winner, alongside South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and the Asia 1 qualifier, and the right to take on the Springboks at the Olympic Stadium in London.
The USA may be widely regarded as favourites to emerge as the Americas 2 qualifier over two legs, but Los Teros are in buoyant mood ahead of this colossal clash.
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We caught up with Uruguay coach Pablo Lemoine and back row Diego Magno to get an insider’s view on what this match means to the South Americans, and how they are preparing to face the USA Eagles.
The aggregate winner will book their place at RWC 2015 as the Americas 2 qualifier. How important is this fixture for Uruguayan rugby?
Pablo Lemoine: “Quite simply, the match against the USA is the biggest match of the year for us. In terms of the build-up to the game we are giving it the preparation and respect that a qualifier of this magnitude deserves. Here in Montevideo, everyone’s talking about the game and you can see billboards across the city promoting it. We are going to get good support on Saturday and we want to repay our fans’ support with results on the field. It’s important to show our fans that we are in a good place and that Uruguayan rugby is going in the right direction.”
How is the squad looking ahead of Saturday’s match?
Diego Magno: “We’ve had a great week and are now ready for the challenge ahead. In reality the preparation for this match started about two years ago when qualification in the Americas started, but we’ve been training really hard over the last few days and we’re in good shape. We’re missing one or two players, but physically and technically we are at our peak.”
Lemoine: “Competition for places in the squad is good and at the moment we have three or four players vying for each position. There is obviously a big difference between us and the USA but we have a nicely balanced team and my boys are ready and up for it – they know that victory over two legs would bring a huge prize – qualification for RWC 2015.”
Is RWC qualification key to growing the Game in Uruguay?
Lemoine: “Beating the USA is our biggest objective of the year, but it’s not our only objective. This is a trap we’ve fallen into in the past – we put too much emphasis on qualifying and if we didn’t reach the Rugby World Cup then everything would crumble around us. Things are different now – we are gradually building momentum and RWC qualification is one of various aims that we have. We have an obligation to get better and better, and even if we don’t qualify there will still be a lot at stake for Uruguayan rugby – the respect of our fans, our world ranking, and we also have a duty to the IRB who have supported us in our development.”
The last time the two sides played in Montevideo the Eagles won by five points in a RWC 2011 qualifier. Do you think the opposition have improved since the last time you met?
Magno: “When we played the USA here in the RWC 2011 qualifier there wasn’t much difference between us, but they have improved dramatically since then and many of their players have since gone on to play for some of the best clubs in Europe. Rugby is growing quickly in the USA. To be honest, there is a big difference in terms of the set-up of each team. The USA are a fully professional outfit and we have an amateur structure in place. I, for example, have a full-time job, study and play rugby in the evenings and on the weekends. But we’re not going to go into this match thinking that they are professional and that we’re not – we’re going into this thinking that we can win. We are more than used to playing against sides that are better than us and we will need to rise to the challenge.”
Pablo, are there any Eagles players that you are particularly wary of?
“The USA have many dangerous players in their squad, in particular Wyles, Manoa, Clever and Ngwenya. They are all fine players in peak physical condition who would pose a threat to any defence in the world.”
Diego, the majority of your teammates play in the domestic league. Do you see this as a sign of strength or weakness?
“Uruguay do have a small handful of players who play abroad; Mario Sagario and Agustin Ormaechea both ply their trade in France, Felipe Berchesi in Italy, and Alejo Corral across the river in Argentina, but the vast majority of the squad are based in the domestic league. Far from seeing this as a sign of weakness, I believe that this is one of our core strengths.
“The USA have a handful of stand-out players who play at some of the best teams in the world, but what we have is a strong collective. We don’t have the star names that the USA do, but what we do have is a very well drilled group of players who are willing to give their all for the shirt. We have the advantage that many of our players play in Uruguay and we all know each other very well. The Eagles have players playing at different levels playing in many different countries, whereas the majority of our squad is based here in Uruguay. We have been playing and training together as a group for the last six or seven months, and for me this is an advantage that we have to exploit.”
Any finally Pablo, do you have fond memories of playing in RWC qualifiers?
“Because of the immense pressures involved in playing in a Rugby World Cup, I actually enjoyed playing in qualifiers more than the tournament itself. Playing in a RWC puts you under a new kind of pressure – your individual performance is scrutinised more and you are constantly under the spotlight. Having said that, I do have some outstanding memories of playing in Rugby World Cups. I was lucky enough to play against England, Scotland and twice against South Africa. I really hope my players get the chance to experience a Rugby World Cup because it’s an unique experience. I can confidently say that they have worked hard and they deserve it.”