Uruguay & Romania vie for World Cup spot

Uruguay’s rugby team will draw inspiration from its footballers when it plays Romania on Saturday in the first of two playoffs for the 20th and final spot in next year’s World Cup in New Zealand.

The second leg is in Bucharest on Nov. 27 with the winner on aggregate joining Argentina, England, Scotland and Georgia in Pool B.

The odds don’t favor Uruguay, which hasn’t beaten Romania, although both previous tests were in Bucharest.

Uruguay’s Teros were also largely amateur, with only three professionals. Romania’s Oaks were entirely professional.

However, the South American country of only 3.5 million is used to pulling off big upsets.

Uruguay’s football team managed a similar feat a year ago, claiming the final spot in football’s 32-team World Cup in South Africa. It went on to reach the semifinals four months ago and finished fourth after losing the third-place game against Germany.

The rugby players have endured 14 games this year to prepare for the playoffs, including a 44-7 win over Kazakhstan in the repechage round. Uruguay also took on as coach Gonzalo Camardon, who played for Argentina at the 1991 and 1999 World Cups. Camardon is doing it unpaid.

“He is very clear with his message; we are playing modern rugby and we are ready,” Uruguay captain Carlos Arboleya said. “We have pressure on our backs because we are playing at home.

“We are hoping to get a lot of support from the crowd. Our primary objective is to win.”

Uruguay played in the 1999 and 2003 World Cups, but Romania has never missed one.

“I don’t want to be in the team that does not qualify for a Rugby World Cup,” said Romania captain Sorin Socol, a two-time World Cup participant. “I’ve been telling the younger players that participating at rugby’s showcase event is the best memory they will ever have.

“We have worked very hard. We made many sacrifices and we want to qualify.”

Romania was coached by Romeo Gontineac, who played in four World Cups. His forwards coach was former prop Steve McDowell, who was in the All Blacks side which won the inaugural cup in 1987.

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