AVIGNON, France (AP) — Uruguay came to the Rugby World Cup to win two games for the first time.
Namibia was knocked off on Wednesday. Uruguay has one more chance in the pool stage: New Zealand next Thursday.
The first meeting between Los Teros and the All Blacks will be staged in Lyon.
The odds for Uruguay are astronomical but that hasn’t dimmed its excitement or anticipation.
“A lot of expectation,” Uruguay flyhalf Felipe Etcheverry says. “We have to prepare with a lot of focus. We have to win. It’s the perfect situation (to face the haka). I am dreaming of this moment.”
Aside from Namibia, Los Teros really targeted Italy in Pool A, and put months of planning into taking down the Six Nations wooden-spooner. They made a great start and led 17-7 at halftime. But at the start of the second half, captain Andres Vilaseca was yellow-carded and Italy found another gear to win 38-17.
The hangover from that heartbreak, and starting a Rugby World Cup game as the rare favorite, saw Uruguay concede a 14-0 start to Namibia. It took yellow cards against Namibia in the second half for Uruguay to get on top after more than 50 minutes.
None of this will have New Zealand shaking in its boots. And by the time Uruguay rolls around, New Zealand will likely need to beat Los Teros to clinch a quarterfinal spot. They will not take any prisoners.
“You always prepare to win a game. On paper and in reality it is something else,” Uruguay assistant coach Pablo Bouza says. “Playing as equals for much of the game is part of the objective. We are convinced that we will have the drive and intensity.”
Bouza is pragmatic because he has played and coached against the All Blacks 11 times with Argentina. The lock came off the bench three times in New Zealand. Then he was an assistant under Daniel Hourcade from 2013-18. He was never involved in a win.
“They (All Blacks) are the most difficult team to face for our type of rugby,” Bouza says. “I remember several games we had under control, but they have all the tools and in two plays they can turn it around.”
Uruguay’s performances at the Rugby World Cup — narrow defeats to France and Italy and the win over Namibia — have Uruguayans back home buzzing and prideful. They’re as keen as the players to see how they measure up against the three-time world champion.
“Now, in the country, everyone talks about the World Cup,” Bouza says. “We have a lot of people following the team and that makes us very happy.”
The team goal is still possible, too.
“We came here to win two games,” scrumhalf Santiago Arata says. “We didn’t beat Italy but we’ve still got to play New Zealand. It will be amazing.”
AP Rugby World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby
Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.