By Chris Thau in Bucharest
Before the crucial match against Portugal in round three of the IRB Nations Cup in Bucharest Uruguay head coach Pablo Lemoine is torn between the pragmatic desire to win, rewarded with IRB World Ranking points, and the feel that irrespective of the final result, this was very much “mission accomplished” for the Teros.
“I would like to have here my best fifteen, with whom I played in the South American Championship last month. But seven of them could not come, so I had to bring several of the understudies. At the beginning of the season we started with a squad of 40 players, aware that I will be unable to have any continuity with the chosen team. So we lost matches we could have won, but on the other hand the experience gained by these players is invaluable and several of them have stated serious claims to the position’s jersey.”
“If we win on Sunday it is great and will confirm the progress we made this tournament. It will be good for all of us, staff and players, for all the things we have tried to do and the extraordinary efforts of the players. If we lose, because, when you start a match you can win, lose or draw, it will depend how well we play, on how big the margin is and all other variables. But it will not be the end of the world, because this overall was a genuine positive experience,” Lemoine said.
The Ormaechea dynasty
Two of the players who so far have contributed to the Uruguay’s positive experience are brothers Juan and Agustin Ormaechea, the sons of Uruguay legend Diego Ormaechea, a former number 8, captain and coach of the country. The two Ormaecheas regard their father as a role model and inspiration and would like to emulate his exploits both in rugby as well as in life. They both started rugby at Carrasco Polo club, for which senior Ormaechea played and coached, both are wearing the light-blue jersey of Uruguay with the same pride father Diego wore it for nearly 20 years and both are reading Veterinary Medicine at Montevideo University, hoping one day to join their father in the family veterinary practice.
Twenty-three year old Juan, who is an outstanding number 8, was 10 when Diego, also a number 8, led the Teros in their first ever RWC appearance against Spain in 1999. “I recall my father turned 40 just before the start of the RWC, I think he was the oldest player in the tournament, and he was running all the time as he was preparing for it. I also remember vaguely the match against Spain when our scrum was so dominant, and contributed to a great Uruguay win. In fact, this is what we are trying to recapture now, that edge in the scrum, which has been a major feature of our game and we have in Pablo Lemoine the right man to help us to do it.”
Finding the balance
The younger brother Agustin, (21) is listed in the Uruguay squad as a centre, but played the previous matches at scrum half. “I never saw my father playing but heard a lot about his exploits and the tours, the ones to South Africa with both the South American Jaguars and the club in particular. I always wanted to be like him, though Juan, my older brother was my model.
"For us this is the last match of the tournament and we would do everything in our power to win it. It is our last chance to show what we are capable of. We made sacrifices to be here. I am in year two, while Juan is in year five and we postponed all our papers and exams to be able to come here. As soon we go back we will have to sit several exams and we don’t have much time to prepare.”
The predicament of the Ormaechea brothers mirrors the problems experienced by virtually all members of the Uruguay team, as well as many in the Portuguese team. Both sides have arrived in Bucharest without some of their leading players, and those attending the tournament had to take leave from employers or university, the price these largely amateur outfits have to pay when they attend international tournaments abroad.
Coach Lemoine observed: “We are at a clear disadvantage because all our players are amateurs. We are unable to field the same team throughout the year, simply because the players are unavailable, for a number of reasons, from work, to studies or family. Furthermore, when we develop a player to the highest standard we invest in him a substantial amount of time and money. If this player, for the same reasons listed above decides to stop playing, and we have had many of these, this is a huge loss to the Uruguay Union and our game, because we have a small number of players and because of the investment that we have made in him.
"So what do we do? We need to develop a semi-professional structure to enable the Union to fund the players and create a system that will sustain itself in the long term. We have to be able to contract 30-40 players and fund them for 3/4 hours of work per day to have them available throughout the year and work with them throughout the year.”