Former captain Rodrigo Capó Ortega (pictured playing for the Barbarians) will return to the Los Teros set-up after a three-year hiatus to assist his country in what promises to be a mouth-watering Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying series against Canada.
The winner of the home and away play-off will qualify as Americas 2 and join Australia, Wales, Georgia and Fiji in Pool D. The first leg, in Vancouver on Saturday, doubles up as the opening game of the Americas Rugby Championship 2018, with the decisive return fixture played a week later at the Estadio Charrua in Montevideo.
Capó Ortega is a veteran of the successful repechage campaign against Russia that earned Los Teros the right to play at RWC 2015 and will add huge experience to their squad. Still going strong at the age of 37, the second-row forward is in his 16th season at French Top 14 side Castres, for whom he has made close to 400 appearances as well as being captain for several years.
CONFIDENCE IS HIGH
“I am convinced he will add aggressiveness and maturity to the forwards and, overall, bring a lot of confidence to an already confident squad,” said Los Teros coach Esteban Meneses.
Aside from a warm-up game in Houston en route to Vancouver, Uruguay’s last outing was in Windhoek back in November when they completed a 2-0 series win over Namibia to round off a successful year that yielded 10 wins and only three defeats.
Playing this early in the year, though, and in sub-zero temperatures – albeit under the closed roof at the spectacular BC Place, are two factors that Uruguay will have to adjust to. Similarly, they will be playing on a different surface.
“The stadium has a compound grass which we don’t have here in Uruguay, but we’ve trained on artificial grass and will have three training sessions in Vancouver, so I doubt it will be an issue,” added Meneses.
BRACED FOR A BIG TEST
A big challenge will come from a fired-up Canadian side that has never waited so long to qualify for a Rugby World Cup, having missed out on the Americas 1 spot to USA for the first time in their history last July.
As a result, Meneses has selected his best squad ever, including five France-based professionals. Capó Ortega is joined by fly-half Felipe Berchesi, second-row Manuel Leindekar, loose forward Franco Lamanna and scrum-half Agustín Ormaechea.
Of the travelling squad of 26, 12 were involved in the previous qualifying process that took them to England 2015. A 13th, Oscar Durán is now on the coaching staff.
“The feeling in the team and management is very positive and we are all looking forward to our trip to North America. We have worked very hard and everybody is raring to go and hungry to secure the place in Japan in Montevideo,” concluded Meneses.
Uruguay are aiming to play in their fourth Rugby World Cup having previously appeared in 1999, 2003 and 2015.
In 1999 and 2015 they left it until the final repechage game – against Morocco and then Russia, while for the 2003 edition, they qualified directly through a four-team home and away series, registering their first-ever win over Canada at the sixth attempt in the process. They also beat Canada 17-13 in last year’s Americas Rugby Championship, but the Canucks lead 8-2 on the overall head to head.
Any form of victory will see Canada restored to the top 20 of the World Rugby Rankings, while Uruguay can leapfrog the USA into 17th place if they win by more than 15 points.