The Americas 2 qualification is a two-leg race, but one good game should get the job done, if done right. There’s no reason the Eagles can’t achieve that on Saturday. Absent only a couple front line contenders, they field nearly the same side that beat Russia by 21 points in November. A similar result should be expected here, but Uruguay have a way of making a mess of things when in the mood.
Five changes from that day have been made, including both props, a second row, and the halfbacks. Olive Kilifi is a surprise inclusion at loosehead, hinting at forward coach Justin Fitzpatrick’s preference for stability in the scrum over the more mobile Nick Wallace. Eric Fry starts at tighthead with Titi Lamositele providing cover. Fry’s achilles heel has been the scrum, but his workrate around the pitch is strong and with no other options he’ll have to do for now.
Hayden Smith has been slotted straight back into the starting lineup at the expense of Tai Tuisamoa, who finds himself out of the match day squad completely, with second row cover being provided by another returnee, Louis Stanfill. Australian-born Tom Coolican and Brigham Young star Kyle Sumsion are likely to win their first caps from the bench, though the latter, one might recall, did manage a couple minutes against the Maori before being knocked out.
The most contentious selections are Mike Petri and Toby L’Estrange at the vital halfback positions, with the former NYAC teammates paired once again. Robbie Shaw’s absence is curious, and Mike Tolkin has resisted calls for Folau Niua to be given a run at no10, preferring to keep him in the midfield. A strong performance from both is essential if they are to win back the confidence of Eagles fans.
Los Teros have yet to name their side, at least publicly, but most of it is predictable. Two players, Mario Sagario and Agustín Ormaechea, play professionally in France, with another two, Felipe Berchesi, Jerónimo Etcheverry, in Italy. Castres lock Rodrigo Capo is absent due to the late stages of his wife’s pregnancy, while the other Ormaechea, back rower Juan Diego, is injured. Both are significant losses to the side.
Sagario and loosehead Rodolfo de Mula are solid scrummagers but not fearsome in the mold of coach Pablo Lemoine or Marcello Calandra before him, and the rest of the pack lacks brute strength. Diego Magno is their best forward and Mathias Palomeque a solid lineout jumper, while Juan de Freitas is a fearless competitor but the former centre is very undersized.
Of the backs, Ormaechea, another converted centre, has been turning heads as a running scrumhalf and should be their main threat. Out wide Gastón Mieres is a slippery customer while Etcheverry is a fine goal kicker. None of these should be of any concern whatsoever to the Eagles, who should prove more than a match physically against the massively outgunned home side.
Therein lies the rub. ARC troubles aside, Uruguay’s only victory over the Eagles was by a single point in the second leg of the 2002 qualifiers. The American forwards that day were strong, but Los Teros fielded arguably their strongest ever set of eight, led by Lemoine and the giant second row pairing of Capo and Juan Carlos Bado. Together with towering flankers Nicolas Brignoni and Nicolas Grille it was a hugely physical side, far superior to the one to be rolled out tomorrow.
Simply put, Uruguay have no chance. Even allowing for a conservative game plan in the first half and some inevitable mistakes from a short preparation time, anything less than a comprehensive victory should be viewed as a failure. A 20 point victory should be well within the capabilities of the Americans and put them in a very comfortable spot in the return leg next weekend.
*EDIT: Lemoine has announced his side, and made several unusual selections, opting to field an older, more squat front row in place of de Mula and Sagario. Big lock Soares has been left out, as well as back rowers de Freitas and Lammana, with smaller replacements named at each spot. Etcheverry has been picked on the wing with lilliputian Mieres the last line of defense. If the Eagles can avoid a scrum contest, Uruguay are in for a hiding.
URUGUAY vs UNITED STATES
Saturday, March 22, 19:00 GMT, Montevideo
Live Stream: http://www.irb.com/live/video.html
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (FFR)
Assistants: Ignacio Iparaguirre (UAR) & Carlos Poggie (UAR)
TMO: Santiago Borsoni (UAR)