This weekend Uruguay face Hong Kong in the Rugby World Cup 2015 repechage semi-finals knowing that this stage in the qualifying competition represents the last chance saloon.
On the other side of the world Russia host Zimbabwe in another one-off tie, with the winner of both matches proceeding to a home-and-away final, the winner of which will join Australia, England, Wales and Fiji in an extremely competitive Pool A at England 2015.
“I have always said that the most difficult part in getting to a World Cup is the actual process of qualifying,” Uruguay’s head coach Pablo Lemoine told Total Rugby.
Lemoine is no stranger to the World Cup and achieved 48 caps for Los Teros. He was also Uruguay’s first professional player, winning the French Top league with Stade Francais. He finished up his career back in Uruguay, before eventually being selected as national head coach.
“I was eager to pass on all my knowledge and experience.. it was quite hard to find the management who would think in a similar way and believe in a very ambitious project, but we managed to get there.
“We all came together and we’ve been able to achieve a lot of our targets and continue to achieve them. We needed to create something different, to move forward to catch up with the world, so we created a high performance centre and have a great team behind it.”
Hong Kong embark on ‘biggest ever’ test
Uruguay will certainly start as favourites on home soil in Montevideo but their opponents Hong Kong are determined to reach the next level, having lost to Japan in Asia’s automatic qualifier in Tokyo.
The team left Hong Kong on 28 July, embarking on an arduous 37-hour journey to South America for a match labelled as the most important game of fifteen-a-side rugby in the 60-year history of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union.
“Our preparations have been a bit more rushed than we would have liked, but we have come together well and have a core group of veterans who are familiar with each other,” said captain and flanker, Nick Hewson.
“We are finding out more about ourselves, but we are under no illusion that it is probably the biggest test match ever for Hong Kong. I think we have made the best of what time has been available to us.
“Uruguay will pose a lot of challenges up front. Their forwards are the main part of their game and I am sure they will be physical. We have seen a few of their games and are building our plan around that, I think we have identified a few areas in their game that we feel we can exploit.”
Winger Salom Yiu Kam Shing shared his excitement about the opportunity: “I’m excited and a little nervous about playing this historic game. It could be another chance for us to make history and it means a lot to Hong Kong. We will try our best for a good result. I had never even considered the possibility of playing in a Rugby World Cup but it would be fantastic if it came true. I would love to be a part of the Rugby World Cup just to enjoy the incredible atmosphere that I have seen on TV.”
- Planet Rugby