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Uruguay in search of professionalization

Six days after their victorious entry into the World Cup against New Zealand, the Blues face Uruguay this Thursday, September 14. For the “Teros”, the Uruguayan XV, this is the first match of the competition. Seventeenth nation in the World Rugby rankings, the Uruguayans – who represent the South American continent with Argentina (10th) and Chile (22nd) – are the underdogs in this competition.

In the country, football remains the dominant sporting activity, but the rugby federation is seeking to accelerate the professionalization of the discipline. « NWe now only have professional players in the selection, when in 2015 there were only four of us,” recalls Mario Sagario, former captain of the Uruguayan selection.

Growing amateur rugby

Several teams joined the Argentine provincial championships, and took advantage of the launch, in 2020, of the first professional championship in South America (SLAR), financed by the World Rugby body. Since 2023, a North American franchise has even joined the party.

Example of the long-term strategy of the Uruguayan federation: the Charrua stadium in Montevideo, for a long time exclusively reserved for the national football team, has opened its doors to rugby since 2012. “From now on, the under-19s start within a good structure with good equipment, Explain Mario Sagario. It takes time and resources, but it’s easier to train real generations of players than before,” continues the man with 76 caps.

“For Chile as for Uruguay, professionalization is beginning, but they need to take a step forward,” believes Kévin Veyssière, sports geopolitics analyst and author of Planet rugby, 50 geopolitical questions (1). Problem, for these selections, “international match windows are quite complicatedhe observes. The teams from the top 15 in the world manage to meet regularly around competitions such as the Six Nations Tournament, or the Rugby Championship (its equivalent in the Southern Hemisphere, formerly the Tri-nations, Editor’s note), but for countries like Uruguay, it is more complicated. »

“Rugby, which was seen as an elite sport, has become more and more popular”

Apart from Argentina, whose first match of the World Cup against England showed the limits (27-10 victory for the XV de la Rose), South America is struggling to get close to the top of the rankings. In this World Cup, Uruguay, like Chile, cannot seriously hope to get out of the groups. “Obviously, against teams like New Zealand or France, there is little chance of winning. Winning a match is already a challenge for us”recognizes Mario Sagario. “If Uruguay manages to win against Namibia and put Italy in difficulty (also in their group, Editor’s note)this will help shake up the established order of rugby and boost the popularity of the discipline in the country,” completes Kévin Veyssière.

After Argentina’s historic third place at the 2007 World Cup, “rugby, which was seen as an elite sport, has become more and more popular”, recalls the specialist. “There is no secret, it must involve remarkable feats. » In 2019, the Uruguayan Teros had already caused a sensation by winning the World Cup, during a group match against Fiji. That year, the team reached the best place in its history in the World Rugby rankings (17th), a place it still holds today.

As his team prepares to enter the competition against the host country, Mario Sagario is optimistic: “In sports newspapers in Uruguay there are spaces reserved for rugby, with player interviews, articles on tactics, etc. In my time, we never saw any, that’s already a sign! »

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