Uruguay have retained the World Rugby Nations Cup on home soil in Montevideo, taking a huge step forward in their Rugby World Cup preparations.
Showing a resilience that will come in very handy later in the year when they face Australia, Wales, Georgia and Fiji in Pool D at Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan, Los Teros downed Argentina XV 28-15 on the third and final match day to secure the title.
After their surprising defeat to Namibia in the second round, Uruguay knew that only a win against Argentina XV would see them take out the Nations Cup for a third consecutive time.
With strong defence and making the most of the few opportunities they had, Los Teros were deserving winners in a game that was all but a final.
“Finals are there to be won,” said Uruguay coach Esteban Meneses after the game. “Putting our opponents under so much pressure was the key to winning. Argentina XV are a very good side, they won the Americas Rugby Championship, with good players, but I have to congratulate my team for their commitment.”
Russia, who had defeated Argentina XV in the previous round, and who were also in line to win the Nations Cup if Uruguay did not prevail in their game, defeated Namibia 20-0 in the day’s other match.
Russia 20-0 Namibia
In a game with few highlights, heavy rain and wind were mitigating factors for the many errors made by two teams set to compete in Japan in less than 100 days’ time.
Only two tries were scored by Russia who, despite being in a commanding position, failed to get an important bonus point that would have made life more difficult for the teams competing in the following game between two-time defending champions Uruguay and Argentina XV.
As both Russia and Namibia tried to find their feet in tricky conditions, fly half Yuri Kushnarev opened the scoring with a penalty.
The game was interrupted by many mistakes coming from both sides, one of which resulted in a yellow card when winger Dumarcho Hartung illegally clashed in the air with a member of the Russian team.
This one-man advantage gave the Bears their first try under the posts when flanker Tagir Gadzhiev twisted in the tackle after two phases. Kushnarev added the conversion on the half-hour mark for the last two first half points.
A similar formula also brought them their second try. Namibia's Janco Venter was sin-binned for offside and, again, two minutes later, a Russian try was scored when number eight Victor Gresev took his opportunity from the back of a scrum for the five pointer, which Kushnarev duly converted.
With almost 30 minutes to play, both teams struggled to gain an advantage and no further points were scored before the full time whistle was blown.
Uruguay 28-15 Argentina XV
The rain did not stop in a game that Uruguay won, largely thanks to their patience and a strong defensive effort.
Missing a few of their regular starters, but with players hungry to prove themselves ahead of Japan 2019, Los Teros took out the game 28-15 against South American rivals Argentina XV.
The first try came through second-row Manuel Leindekar, who used his near two-metre height to stop a kick from Martin Landajo, the 84-cap Puma trying to regain his form in time to make it to another Rugby World Cup. Leindekar only had to drop on top of the ball for the try that the efficient Federico Favaro then converted.
Argentina XV fly-half Martín Roger showed his precision with a 40-metre penalty, but Uruguay did not have to wait long for their next opportunity as they forced a penalty from the ensuing kick-off that Favaro again converted to leave them 10 points up after the first quarter.
The visitors appeared to hit back with a try of their own only to have Irish referee Frank Murphy call them back for a penalty. Soon after, Favaro kicked his second penalty.
Despite large amounts of possession, Argentina XV only managed to cross the home try-line in the 35th minute with a pushover try from number eight Santiago Portillo. By then, Uruguay’s Germán Kessler had been sin-binned.
The hooker made sure he made up for his time spent off the pitch, scoring either side of the break – the first from the back of a maul, the second from a quick tap by scrum-half Agustín Ormaechea when everybody thought Uruguay would kick the penalty. Both of the tries were scored while Argentina XV flanker Santiago Montagner was sitting on the sideline.
At 25-10 and with most of the second half to play, the game was still very much in the balance. Uruguay were pushed hard defensively being a player short for 20 of the final 30 minutes due to two further yellow cards.
Replacement Lucas Santa Cruz scored the second Argentina XV try to narrow the gap to 10 points, but even with 14 men, Los Teros continued defending like men possessed and six minutes from time, Favaro added yet another penalty as the game wound down to the much celebrated final whistle.
Photo: URU / Marcos Harispe