No Repechage ghosts for Uruguay to overcome
Uruguay find themselves in a familiar position once again as another Rugby World Cup qualification process enters the final few months, needing to negotiate the Repechage process to claim the final place at England 2015.
Los Teros now await the runner-up of the Asian 5 Nations – which gets underway this weekend – in the first stage of the Repechage in August, with the winner to face either a African or European opponent over two legs, home and away, in September and October.
Uruguay had hoped to avoid this tricky route by beating USA in the Americas 2 play-off last month but, after drawing the first leg in Montevideo 27-27, they let slip a half-time lead in the return leg to ultimately lose 32-13 and 59-40 to the Eagles on aggregate.
The Repechage has not been kind to Uruguay in the past and they have been left heartbroken after falling at the final hurdle for both the 2007 and 2011 tournaments in France and New Zealand respectively.
In March 2007, Uruguay saw their hopes of qualifying for a third successive Rugby World Cup ended by the smallest of margins, a single point on aggregate. Uruguay had lost the first leg 12-5 to Portugal in Lisbon, but rallied to win the second 18-12 at home in Montevideo.
The margin of victory though wasn’t quite enough and Portugal triumphed 24-23 on aggregate to qualify for their first Rugby World Cup and earn the right to face New Zealand, Scotland, Italy and Romania in Pool C in France.
History is history
Some three and a half years later, Uruguay overcame the first challenge of the Repechage by sweeping aside Kazakhstan to leave only Romania standing between them and a place at New Zealand 2011.
The first leg ended in a 21-21 draw in Montevideo and Uruguay then had no answer to Romania in Bucharest with the home side running out 39-12 winners to secure the 20th and final place on offer at the Game’s showpiece event.
Uruguay’s current coach Pablo Lemoine experienced those despairing times first hand, having started in the front row on both occasions in 2007 and come off the bench in the two matches with Romania.
It would be easy to think that the former prop, who played 48 Tests for Los Teros between 1995 and 2010, is desperate to lay the ghosts of 2007 and 2010 to rest by winning the Repechage this time around, but he is focused on the here and now.
“History is history – it’s in the past and we can’t change it,” insisted Lemoine.
“As a team we need to live in the present and the players now need to go into the Repechage and create their own story. Right now we’re doing everything that we possibly can to give the players the best possible conditions to be able to qualify for RWC 2015.”
An incredible experience
Lemoine, though, is determined to keep his players’ feet firmly on the ground and insists they will “take the Repechage one step at a time, and will give each side the respect that they deserve”.
“Firstly, we will focus on the one-off match against the Asian 5 Nations runner-up. For me this will probably be either Hong Kong or Korea, and these are both good teams who play a quick and dynamic style of rugby.
“What does worry me is that, unlike the Americas 2 qualifiers against the USA, this is a one-off knock-out match and there are no second chances. We will have to be at our very best to progress to the play-off final.”
The prize awaiting the Repechage winner is a place in Pool A alongside hosts England, Australia, Wales and the Oceania 1 qualifier, and Lemoine admits that would be “a dream come true” for his country.
“The reality is that if we qualify then we will be given the opportunity to play four matches against four world-class teams. This will be a dream come true for Uruguay. We all want to play against the very best.
“We played England at RWC 2003 and it was a fantastic experience. Playing in Pool A really would be an incredible experience for my boys, and something that none of them would ever forget.”