Six days after their heroic performance in Lille, when they pushed much-fancied France to the limit, Uruguay are back in action – this time against Italy in a match that has more than simply this Rugby World Cup on the line.
New Zealand and France remain firm favourites to qualify from Pool A – though there’s still a long way to go in the first phase of this year’s tournament and nothing is decided yet. But a third-place finish guarantees an automatic qualification spot for RWC 2027 in Australia. That’s a prize worth chasing.
Unsurprisingly, then, Uruguay coach Esteban Meneses has made only two changes to his starting 15 from the team that lost 27-12 to France in Lille, with German Kessler coming in at hooker, and Gaston Mieres – who has featured in the past two tournaments – onto the wing.
Italy’s opening 52-8 win over Namibia has put them in a strong position, and they have their sights on a possible, if unlikely, quarter-final push. They also know that very ambition means that they cannot take the rapidly improving South Americans anything less than completely seriously.
FIXTURE: Italy v Uruguay
GROUND: Stade de Nice (35,983)
KICK-OFF: 17:45 local time (GMT+2)
These two sides are meeting for the first time at a Rugby World Cup.
Never mind Uruguay’s most recent performance against France, brilliant though it was. Four years ago, in Japan, a country which then had a grand total of 22 professional players beat a Fiji side featuring the likes of Leone Nakarawa, Semi Radradra, Vereniki Goneva and Levani Botia 30-27.
KEY TALKING POINT
It has to be whether Uruguay can repeat the tirelessly physical breakdown effort that caused a much-changed France side so many problems in Lille last Thursday.
Italy have spotted it. “We saw what Uruguay did against France, battling for every ball and they put you in difficulty physically. Against a team like that the breakdown becomes very important,” said back-row Sebastian Negri, who wins his 50th cap.
Could Uruguay spring a shock? Since the last Rugby World Cup, they have stepped up a level. Everyone in their 33-player squad is now professional, or semi-profesional. Their main side Peñarol – which has supplied 24 of the Rugby World Cup squad – won the Súper Rugby Américas league this year. And they have Santiago Arata, a scrum-half force of nature.
Italy know what’s coming, then. They know that they can’t make the mistake France did and rotate too much, hence why Kieran Crowley has only made four changes of personnel to his starting XV. The question is: what can they do about it?
Paolo Garbisi v Andres Vilaseca. The older of Italy’s Garbisi brothers isn’t new to the high-traffic inside centre role - he’s played there 15 times for Top 14 side Montpellier. But this is his first international start at 12 – and he’s up against Uruguay’s experienced captain.
Italy have been drawn in the same pool as New Zealand on no fewer than six occasions. This year, they will face their old RWC rivals next, on 29 September in Lyon.
Angus Gardner (Australia). Gardner, who refereed South Africa’s 18-3 win over Scotland in Marseille in the opening block of games, picked up the whistle as a teenager after a back problem ended his playing career.
ITALY Ange Capuozzo; Lorenzo Pani, Juan Ignacio Brex, Paolo Garbisi, Montanna Ioane; Tommaso Allan, Alessandro Garbisi; Danilo Fischetti, Giacomo Nicotera, Marco Riccioni; Niccolo Cannone, Federico Ruzza; Sebastian Negri, Michele Lamaro (captain), Lorenzo Cannone
Replacements: Luca Bigi, Federico Zani, Pietro Ceccarelli, Dino Lamb, Manuel Zuliani, Giovanni Pettinelli, Alessandro Fusco, Paolo Odogwu
URUGUAY Baltazar Amaya; Gaston Mieres, Tomas Inciarte, Andres Vilaseca (captain), Nicolas Freitas; Felipe Etcheverry, Santiago Arata; Mateo Sanguinetti, German Kessler, Ignacio Peculo; Felipe Aliaga, Manuel Leindekar; Manuel Ardao, Santiago Civetta, Manuel Diana
Replacements: Guillermo Pujadas, Facundo Gattas, Diego Arbelo, Ignacio Dotti, Carlos Deus, Agustin Ormaechea, Felipe Berchesi, Bautista Basso