Uruguay are very definitely one of the up-and-coming nations in rugby union, with them continuing to grow in momentum and to build their rugby identity with each major outing. This will be their fourth appearance at a Rugby World Cup finals, with their previous ones coming in 1999, 2003, 2015 and 2019, and, even though they have never got out of their pool before, they have had a few memorable performances and results, with their 30-27 win against Fiji in Japan four years ago one that really stands out.
Los Teros have taken another step forward in their progression ahead of this year’s edition of the showpiece event, with them qualifying as the top nation in the Americas, meaning that they have not had to go through a qualification tournament to secure their place and have instead had more time to compete in friendlies and to prepare for the World Cup in the best way possible, with them having more opportunities to test different combinations and to see where their strengths and weaknesses are.
All in all, there is a lot of excitement and interest over what they could do this summer.
One person who deserves a lot of credit for their continued development is head coach Esteban Meneses, who has been in charge since 2015 and who has worked hard to bring the team together, with him introducing clever ideas and giving the players the best possible opportunity of expressing themselves on the field.
It has not been easy for him to prepare the squad for each World Cup though, with some of his players spread around leagues in Europe and the USA whilst those who play for Montevideo-based Peñarol (the first professional rugby club in the country) rarely experience the same level of rugby that they will be competing at in France.
Therefore, providing an idea of what they will be facing and ensuring that they are ready to compete with their pool stage opponents New Zealand, hosts France, Namibia and a continually improving Italy has been tricky to say the least.
Nevertheless, However, there are very positive messages coming out of the South American nation, in that everyone is on the same page with regards to where they want to be and that Meneses has the full backing of both his squad and the governing body, and it will be interesting to see how they do in France later this year.
A lot of what Uruguay do well in attack comes down to their skill with the ball in hand, and what was clear to see in their final qualifying match against the USA, when they overturned a first leg defeat to seal their place in France, was how good they were when running up the pitch and how they continually located gaps in the opposing defensive line that they could exploit.
They don’t often pass the ball and instead each player likes to take responsibility themselves, which works well when facing teams who naturally leave spaces open, but it is a risky style and does leave open the possibility of players being isolated and easy turnovers being conceded, so that is something that Los Teros will need to be wary of.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of confidence among the squad in what they are looking to do at the moment, and they do have a firm belief in their ability to trouble teams when in possession and to continuously try to wear them out.
Defensively, things are a little less certain, with Uruguay at times missing tackles and not getting across the field quickly enough to support each other, and that does lead to opponents getting over the goal line too easily in some games and has led to plenty of nervy moments.
However, with them again displaying teamwork and desire and never losing faith in their own abilities, they will demonstrate their toughness and robust nature in defence and will always look to make themselves as difficult to break down as they can, and, if any of their four pool stage opponents have any thoughts about them being an easy opponent to play against, then Fiji can testify to the fact that that complacency will give Uruguay a significant boost.
There are a few names in Los Teros’ squad that stand out, with one player that always catches the eye being the pacy and endlessly dangerous utility back Rodrigo Silva. More often than not, he is at the heart of their attacking play and is the one who makes intelligent runs for the side, enabling them to secure points and build some scoreboard pressure.
However, with Uruguay being quite a physical side, the front row will be key to watch in France, and hooker Facundo Gattas, who currently plies his trade for Old Glory DC in the USA’s capital, will be central to that. He is an old-fashioned hooker who likes to make a lot of pick and go’s, and allowing him chances to barrel into opponents will be vital if Los Teros are to gain ground from their opponents. It would be a surprise to see him not make a dent or two in opposing defences at one time or another.
Whilst it is very likely that Uruguay’s World Cup journey will come to an end in the pool stages once again, they should take heart from the fact that they are increasingly viewed as a tough team to beat, and there is no doubt that they are on the right track in terms of their own development and that they do have it in them to challenge the other sides in the tournament.
However, what will really get them going is the desire that has been mentioned throughout, and continually fighting hard for each other will allow them to keep going even when it looks as if things are not going their way. As the USA found out in that final qualifying game, Uruguay are not a team to be underestimated, and doing so really will be at the other side’s own risk.