Mike Tolkin’s Select XV looks set to end the tournament on a high and clinch a second place finish as they close out against the bottom dwelling Uruguayans. Looks can be deceiving, however, and Pablo Lemoine has rolled out his strongest side of the week to make things difficult for the Americans. Uruguay won a famous victory in the same fixture in 2012, and after a fully engaged match against the Jaguars on Wednesday an upset is not out of the realms of possibility.
The only change up front is a significant one, as leading test back rower Diego Magno gets the call up having been sufficiently rested from an excellent performance in Montevideo against Russia. He replaces Gabriel Puig, with Agustín Alonso switched back to his more accustomed flank position, and provides a more rugged ball-carrying option to balance out the otherwise lightweight back five. Lemoine has also opted for a 6-2 split on the bench, knowing that plenty of fresh legs will be required in the final quarter following the heavy toll of the battle against Argentina.
Test fullback Gastón Mieres heads up three changes to the backs, replacing Matías Arocena and offering his pace as a useful counter-attacker. Alejo Durán moves from scrumhalf to flyhalf to make room for Guillermo Lijstenstein, and Rodrigo Silva replaces Rodrigo Bocking at inside centre. Durán has often switched between the two halfback positions and with Silva also comfortable at no10, it suggests Uruguay are prepared to play a quicker, more expansive game than they have shown thus far.
An unusual back row configuration leads out the American challenge. Rangy prospect Ben Pinkelman gets his first start as a blindside flanker, with big ball runner Andrew Durutalo on the openside. Louis Stanfill switches to the back of the scrum, a position he has only rarely occupied in the test arena. Of course the numbers on their back might be just that and their actual arrangement during the match might switch, but it is curious given that all three appear to be slightly out of position. Another change sees second row Graham Harriman fit enough to resume second row duties in place of Brian Doyle.
The backs have added a bit of zip with 7s stars Folau Niua and Zack Test taking the places of Chad London and Tim Maupin respectively. With the news that the Eagles will be without their England-based players on their upcoming tour, there are spots to be had for both if they show well. Test has only rarely been spotted in the full version of the game in recent years, but there’s no doubting his attacking ability and he could be a like-for-like replacement for Blaine Scully.
It’s an interesting match, and with World Cup aspirations for players on both sides of the pitch it promises to be a fierce battle. The legs will be heavy in their third asking in only eight days, but both coaches have managed to squeeze in some fresh blood to keep things moving. Uruguay haven’t chosen a pack built for the scrum and with mild weather called for it should be a reasonably open game of rugby. The Americans have more firepower out wide where Uruguay are weakest, so if Shalom Suniula and Adam Siddall can move the ball quickly there’s no reason why they shouldn’t win by a good 15 points or so.
USA SELECT XV vs URUGUAY ‘A’
Sunday, October 19, 14:30 PST, Langford