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How South America's underdogs are preparing for France and the All Blacks

By Frankie Deges
Uruguay national team players stand for the national anthem during the Autumn International match between Georgia and Uruguay at Dinamo Arena on November 6, 2022 in Tbilisi, Georgia. (Photo by Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images)

Whilst the All Blacks and France might not be paying huge attention to the extended Rugby World Cup preparation squad coming out from Montevideo in the last few days, Los Teros are certainly aiming high for Rugby World Cup 2023.

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When Uruguay beat Fiji at the Kamaishi Memorial Ground in a warm and sunny afternoon in 2019, it was a fitting homage to those who had perished in the 2011 tsunami that cleaned out that town.

In rugby terms, it made the world sit down in awe of the hunger and pride from the Uruguayan side who ere easily discarded at the start of the tournament.

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It is impossible to imagine what would have happened in the following game against Georgia had Esteban Meneses’ squad been given a longer rest period.

At the 2023 Rugby World Cup their two key games are scheduled a week apart, sandwiched between their two biggest games ever.

If things go their way against Italy and Namibia, Uruguay will book an early place for Australia 2027.

A lot needs to happen before that, including a warm-up game against Namibia that will tell them in a more accurate way where they stand.

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Meneses will coach Uruguay for a second consecutive Rugby World Cup and will complete eight seasons in charge of the team.

His demeanour and amiable personality have gelled a team that is confident of what might happen.

The 46-player squad is brimming with confidence. Nine players are based overseas, including scrumhalf Santiago Arata who, after a series of outstanding seasons with Castres, is fielding offers from most top French clubs, including Toulouse who will lose Antoine Dupont after Rugby World Cup as he focuses on playing at the Olympic Games in Paris 2024.

Arata will be joined by team captain Andrés Vilaseca, currently playing in Vannes, who is in line to emulate older brother Santiago, skipper in RWC
2015, by taking Uruguay to France.

The arrival of professional rugby in Uruguay has certainly not made players rich, but given them a framework at home to play for Peñarol Rugby, the franchise that has competed since 2020 in the regional first, then continental, competition.

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Finalists in 2020 & 2021, they won the Superliga Americana de Rugby in 2022 and this year took the inaugural Super Rugby Americas title.

Most of the 46 players in the squad have played in the past four years for the team loosely supported by one of Uruguay’s biggest football clubs.

The squad also includes nine players involved in the recent South American Olympic qualifier that saw them secure a ticket to Paris 2024.

Amongst them is captain Diego Ardao who joins younger brother Manuel who captained Peñarol. Whilst the first might not make it to France, Manuel will be a menace to opponents with his poaching ability and vision as openside flanker.

The battle for the loose forwards will be very big, with Manuel Diana being one of the best players in the recent Super Rugby Americas, having recovered from a long-term injury.

Santiago Civetta might not recover in sufficient time, a Tero captain in the waiting, he did his Achilles last November and has only played a handful of games.

Missing will be Franco Lamanna, who has been suspended for three years for a doping violation in Italy. An insomniac, he tested positive and will not play his third Rugby World Cup.

His experience will be missed in the second row, where Diego Magno will be hoping to play in his third tournament and stretching a career that saw him win his first cap in 2008.

Magno is one of nine players in the squad that played in Rugby World Cup 2015 in England, a figure that jumps to 20 including those who were in Japan four years later.

Uruguay will play against France in Lille on Thursday 14 September, six days after the tournament’s opening game between the home side and New Zealand.

Huge hopes are pinned on Los Teros’ second game, against Italy in Nice, on September 20.

Although they have not yet beaten the Azzuri, their last game in 2021 gave them sufficient food for thought. It is a fact that the Italians have been growing steadily as young blood has been introduced for Kieran Crowley, the former All Black who will be surplus to Italian requirements post Rugby World Cup.

Both Namibia and Uruguay will be the wiser after their warmup game in early August in Uruguay. In the unlikely event that Los Teros happen to beat Italy, then this game against the Namibians, who to date have not won in RWC, could qualify them directly to the next tournament.

And, lo and behold, if the All Blacks lose the game against France in Paris, a place in the quarterfinals could be decided at the OL Stadium, Lyon, on October 5.

Yes, it is a given that the All Blacks will win that game and bets will reside on points difference, but if they haven’t yet secured their place in the top eight, they might not be able to rest their star players.

It won’t be the first time New Zealand played Uruguay in a test-match. In 1976, Graham Mourie brought a New Zealand XV to Argentina and a game in Montevideo was included.

On a football field, with fans standing on the sideline, a massive brawl captured in what seems to be the only footage available on YouTube, the All Blacks scored eight unanswered tries.

A lot has changed since in Uruguayan rugby. So much that they qualified as Americas 1 for this tournament and are aiming for a direct place for Australia.

They could be a stone in the All Blacks’ shoes.

That is how uncomfortable Uruguay could be in France.

Forwards: Felipe Aliaga, Diego Arbelo, Manuel Ardao, Matías Benítez, Lucas Bianchi, Santiago Civetta, Carlos Deus, Manuel Diana, Eric dos Santos, Ignacio Dotti, Tomás Etcheverry, Emiliano Faccennini, Mathias Franco, Facundo Gattas, Germán Kessler, Manuel Leindekar, Diego Magno, Agustín Morales, Ignacio Péculo, Mateo Perillo, Reinaldo Puissi, Guillermo Pujadas, Juan Manuel Rodríguez, Mateo Sanguinetti

Backs: Juan manuel Alonso, Ignacio Álvarez, Santiago Álvarez, Baltazar Amaya, Santiago Arata, Felipe Arcos Pérez, Diego Ardao, Bautista Basso, Felipe Etcheverry, Koba Braziones, Felipe Etcheverry, Ignacio Facciolo, Nicolás Freitas, Tomás Inciarte, Gastón Mieres, Agustín Ormaechea, Alfonso Silva, Rodrigo Silva, Juan Manuel Tafernaberry, Andrés Vilaseca, Mateo Viñals, Juan Andrés Zuccarino.

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