Uruguay is world famous for our national soccer team but did you know that Uruguay is one of just twenty nations to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan?
Pablo Ferrari, president of the Uruguay Rugby Union, takes to time to talk to Guru’Guay from Japan, in the run up to Uruguay’s game against Wales this weekend.
When and why did people start playing rugby in Uruguay?
Pablo Ferrari: Rugby in Uruguay developed in the second half of the nineteenth century under the influence of the British who arrived in Uruguay as a result of the industrial revolution. It was a time when European countries were bringing jobs, investment and innovation to South America, and well, they also brought their sports. Rugby was an fairly unknown sport nationally for a long time though it was played in the mostly closed circles of the British community since the 1860s. Myself I played rugby all my life at the Montevideo Cricket Club which was founded in 1861. In fact the Montevideo Cricket Club is the oldest rugby club outside the UK and eighth oldest in the world, as recognised by the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham.
How many times has Uruguay reached the Rugby World Cup?
Pablo: The Teros–as the national squad are known–have played the World Cup four times. Our first time was in 1999. We played in a group that included Scotland and South Africa. Scotland was the European champion, South Africa was the world champion. Uruguay did beat Spain. We qualified directly for the 2003 World Cup in Australia, where we faced South Africa once again, along with England, Samoa and Georgia. In that World Cup, we won our first game–against Georgia. It was incredible as there’s a big Uruguayan community in Australia and there were more than 15,000 Uruguayans and children of Uruguayans in the stands. Then we qualified England in 2015. Unfortunately, we didn’t win a game but we did score two tries against Fiji and it was a great World Cup for us. Now in the 2019 World Cup we are in a tough group with Wales, Australia, Georgia and Fiji. We beat Fiji in our first match–something totally historic and praised by many here at the world cup and around the world.
For a country of 3 million it is remarkable that Uruguay is the second most successful country in rugby in the Americas. Why?
Pablo: Uruguay is a country of few inhabitants but there are lots of strong athletes. We do well in football, basketball, rowing and rugby. Over the last fifteen years as a result of good governance in the URU, financial support from the government, the sponsors and the union itself, and a world-class stadium refurbished in 2012, we’ve put together a sound infrastructure.
Is it true that Uruguay are the only amateur team in the World Cup?
Pablo: Nowadays it’s not really amateur but rather semi-professional. In fact, several Teros players have contracts and others are on loan to professional leagues abroad. What it is true is that the Uruguay team players are 100% born and bred here. That is not the case in the 98 percent of the other teams. We think that gives us a plus.
I understand that the URU is being innovative in terms of the role of women.
Pablo: The URU had a very big debt with women’s rugby. There were a handful of clubs on the coast and very few in the capital. Four years ago this started to change. There are more clubs in Montevideo and in the interior and more importance is being given to the national squad. The latest thing we’ve created is a structure in which there are female managers. And in fact–something which is historic in the whole of the Americas–in 2018, Annie Milburn became our first female board member.
More on Wales and UruguayBBC Wales asked Guru’Guay, as Welsh person living in Uruguay for the last twenty years, about the differences between the two countries, and where she’d be watching the game.
Photos: courtesy Marcos Harispe/URU