Uruguay players celebrate winning the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2008

Uruguay’s young stars were crowned the inaugural IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy champions after coming from behind to defeat hosts Chile 20-8 in a high quality final played before a record crowd of nearly 7,000 at the Stade Français Club in Santiago in April.

The final was always going to be an intriguing affair, the sides having met twice at the IRB Under 19 World Championship in Belfast last year with Uruguay winning both Division B encounters 30-20 and 21-3. Chile and Uruguay are also regular competitors on the CONSUR age grade circuit.

Uruguay certainly held the psychological edge heading into the final, but hopes were high within the Chilean camp that home advantage, playing before one of the biggest ever crowds for a rugby match in the country, would inspire them to an historic victory.

The early exchanges augured well for Chile as they raced into an 8-0 lead within half an hour courtesy of a Francisco González penalty and try from centre Ricardo Sifri, much to the delight of the partisan home crowd.

Uruguay begin fightback

However, that was as close as Chile were to get to the silverware as despite the best efforts of their fluid backs, a tough tackling and powerful Uruguayan side got to grips with the humid conditions and ran in tries either side of the interval through second row Diego Magno and impressive fly half Germán Albanell to lift the title and secure promotion to the IRB Junior World Championship 2009 in Japan.

“I am delighted with the win coming at the back of several months of hard work and look forward to Uruguay playing in the IRB Junior World Championship next year. Twelve of the boys are eligible to play in the Under 20s next year,” said Bruno Grunwaldt, one of Uruguay’s co-coaches along with Martín Mendaro.

To reach the final of the eight-team event had been no easy task for either Chile or Uruguay with no margin for error as only the top side in each pool would progress to the title decider and the likes of Romania, Georgia and Namibia also harbouring their own final aspirations.

The road to the final

Chile sailed through their opening Pool A matches against Cook Islands 33-10 and Namibia 20-6 to set up a showdown with Romania, traditionally strong at age grade level, who had also defeated the same opponents.

When the Romanians took a third minute lead with a penalty from fly half Alin Georgescu, the scene was set for a strong performance. However, roared on by the 5,000 strong crowd, Chile held firm while a man down and ultimately triumphed 14-3 thanks to Felipe Brangier’s try and three penalties from fly half González.

It was an historic marker for Chilean rugby and importantly set up the all-South American final against a Uruguay side which had kicked off their impressive charge to the top of Pool B with a 10-try, 67-8 defeat of Korea and 82-0 victory over newcomers Jamaica – the first Caribbean side ever to qualify for an IRB international 15-a-side competition.

These wins set up a pool decider against Georgia, one from which Uruguay emerged 20-16 victors owing largely to their sheer guts and determination to win, although their discipline was also key as they refused to give away kickable penalties – unlike their opponents who had two players sin-binned in the second half.

The final may not have yielded the outcome the hosts had dreamed of, but the tournament was something of a watershed for the Federacion de Rugby de Chile and had put rugby in the country firmly back on the map, through a combination of a detailed legacy programme and outstanding rugby before large crowds.

In the other playoff matches on the final day in Santiago, Cook Islands claimed their first victory at an IRB age grade tournament by defeating Jamaica 54-15 to finish seventh, while Namibia battled past an improving Korean side 36-29 to claim fifth overall.

Third place was claimed by Georgia after a one-sided 34-10 victory over Romania, but both sets of players would have been bitterly disappointed not to have reached the final and within touching distance of promotion to the Junior World Championship, the top tier of Under 20 rugby which replaced the IRB Under 19 and Under 21 World Championships following a restructuring of age grade rugby.

RESULTS:

POOL A


15/04/2008 - Romania 28-26 Namibia
15/04/2008 - Chile 33-10 Cook Islands
19/04/2008 - Romania 46-7 Cook Islands
19/04/2008 - Chile 20-6 Namibia
23/04/2008 - Namibia 25-14 Cook Islands
23/04/2008 - Chile 14 Romania 3

POOL B

15/04/2008 - Georgia 90-3 Jamaica
15/04/2008 - Uruguay 67-8 Korea
19/04/2008 - Georgia 50-31 Korea
19/04/2008 - Uruguay 82-0 Jamaica
23/04/2008 - Korea 55-17 Jamaica
23/04/2008 - Uruguay 20-16 Georgia

PLAY-OFFS

7th Place - Cook Islands 54-15 Jamaica
5th Place - Namibia 36-29 Korea
3rd Place - Romania 10-34 Georgia

FINAL: Chile 8 Uruguay 20