By Frankie Deges
Uruguay’s win over Chile in the recent South American Championship was much celebrated by a growing rugby population in Tero-land. Among those to take a huge morale boost from the win in the latest stages of Americas qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2015 were Uruguay’s Under 20 side currently preparing for the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in Temuco, Chile.
Winners of the inaugural Trophy in 2008, staged some 700 kilometres north in the Chilean capital of Santiago, Uruguay return to this tournament having missed out on the 2012 tournament in Salt Lake City after losing to Chile in the South American Under 19 Championship.
They lost to their rivals again in last year’s regional championship, but with Chile qualifying automatically for the Junior World Rugby Trophy as hosts, Uruguay got a reprieve and will line up in Pool B alongside Japan, Tonga and Canada later this month.
“That loss hurt us a lot as a team, but made us more strong-willed,” admitted coach Juan Baldomir, who returns to the Trophy, a tournament he attended in 2010 and 2011 as part of Los Teritos’ coaching staff.
“This current team has no stars, but a huge heart and are ready to do the hard work. None of the players have yet played first division rugby, but we’ve also been together since last November as a squad.”
With the Uruguayan Rugby Union in a renovation process that includes having secured the Charrúa Stadium for 10 years and setting up a High Performance Centre that meant the investment was directed there, Los Teritos’ management had to think outside of the box to secure regular competition at a very low cost. With a nine-club First Division, Uruguay Under 20s played against the bye-team every weekend.
The future is clear
“We know we will be up against very big teams in the Trophy, the players have now been playing against senior players and adjusting to a physically harder kind of rugby. It was something very positive and the team grew with every game,” explained Baldomir.
Baldomir, a former Test player who also played for Uruguay at RWC Sevens 2005 with fellow coach Joaquín Pastore, is happy with their preparation for the Trophy, which runs from 28 May to 9 June.
“It has been better than expected. We’ve been injury-free so far and had a very solid build-up for the JWRT. Having the HP centre is very important for Uruguayan rugby, and for my players (to have) the opportunity to work closely with Los Teros and share their experience.”
With 27 players have graduated from Uruguay’s Under 20 sides that have played in either the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy or Junior World Championship – nine of them playing in that 23-9 win over Chile to remain in the RWC 2015 hunt – the pathway is clear.
“Now, the road to international rugby is visible. They see the seniors at training, work with them and it is certainly encouraging for the younger generations,” explained Baldomir.
The long and hard preparation will finish with a shared training camp at the Charrúa Stadium with Argentina’s Under 20s who will compete at the IRB Junior World Championship in France next month.
Respecting the Uruguayan legacy
Uruguay has, in the opinion of their affable coach, got the hardest of the two pools at JWRT 2013.
“Japan have to be respected. They’ve reached three finals and been waiting to move to the Championship. Our record against them is not very positive. I imagine they will play an integral brand of rugby, with a lot of interaction between forwards and backs. We must be very solid in every aspect of our game.”
Next up is Tonga and “a game we expect to be highly physical. We must never lose our concentration against them. If we stay focused we could have an edge.”
Last, but in no way least, will be Canada. “I’ve looked at their heights and weights and they are huge. When we played against them in Georgia in 2011 we only beat them narrowly and close to the end of the game. Age grade rugby is hard to predict as teams change from year to year.”
Uruguay only needs to find the strength within themselves if they are to repeat their title success in 2008, which earned them a place alongside the world’s top 12 teams in the Junior World Championship the following year in Japan.
“We will work very hard and it won’t be easy to beat us. These players made a lot of sacrifices to be ready for this Trophy. They all study or work and will go to Temuco with pride,” concluded Baldomir.
“We’ll play this JWRT with self-confidence but being humble. We’ll respect the legacy of Uruguayan rugby, based on the hard work of this team. I am confident we will have a good tournament.”
Uruguay results on the JWRT stage
2008 – Santiago, Chile
Uruguay 67-8 Korea
Uruguay 82-0 Jamaica
Uruguay 20-16 Georgia
Final: Uruguay 20-8 Chile
2010 – Moscow, Russia
Romania 15-12 Uruguay
Uruguay 42-14 Papua New Guinea
Fifth place play-off: Uruguay 13-11 Canada
2011 – Tbilisi, Georgia
Uruguay 33-5 Russia
Samoa 37-6 Uruguay
Uruguay 33-5 USA
Third place play-off: Georgia 20-15 Uruguay
By Frankie Deges