HANAMAKI, 20 Sep – Manuel Ardao is the youngest player in the World Cup's youngest squad. But you would hardly guess it from the Uruguayan's demeanour.
"I was confident I would make the cut, but I was also aware there was always a chance of being left behind. I tried to always remind myself of it. I was excited but well grounded. It took a lot of physical and mental tuning to be here today," he said.
Ardao’s is an exceptional case. He has featured in every international event his country has entered in just over a year: the World Rugby U20 Championship, Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco, and now Rugby World Cup 2019.
Rugby in Uruguay is still amateur. And Ardao, an architecture student at the University of the Republic in Uruguay, is feeling the strain of combining sport and study.
"I have been playing continuously for nigh on for three years now. When this World Cup is over, I will be taking a few days off," said the back-row, who is amateur in name only.
"Luckily, I am in good shape, although for obvious reasons, I was unable to attend any lectures this term."
Lista definitiva mundial de Rugby🏉en Japón. Felicitamos a nuestros docentes y ex alumnos: Guzmán Barreiro, Manuel Diana, Manuel Ardao, Federico Favaro, Tomás Inciarte y Leandro Leivas. También saludamos a Leandro Segredo, que participó del grupo de 36 jugadores pre seleccionados pic.twitter.com/YlmeaIO7v2— Colegio Stella Maris (@stellamarisuru) September 2, 2019
The World Cup is a different animal to the other international tournaments Ardao has experienced.
"The U20 Trophy is more down to earth. It is hardly a fraction of the size of this event, because this is a monster. The whole set-up, the level of detail, the logistics … It’s all perfect.
"The World Cup Sevens is just like this one in everything but size - smaller, shorter and with fewer people to each side.
"In order to be here, I had to step out of my comfort zone."
To this end, Uruguay's Welsh high-performance coach, Craig White, played a crucial part. White is also a World Rugby strength and conditioning consultant, and has previously worked with the British and Irish Lions, Leicester Tigers, Wasps and Ireland. He has spent the last year with Los Teros and will work with them in Japan.
"He was clear on his work dynamic. Thanks to that, I pushed myself further every day.
"He would say to me, 'This isn’t a junior team. Nothing's good enough here.' He made me understand that if I ever wanted to make it to (be selected for) Los Teros, I would have to become stronger, faster and better prepared. I think that is why I made it here today."