Uruguay and Russia meet tonight in Montevideo in the second leg of their final Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifier , with the winner sealing the twentieth and final place at Rugby’s showpiece event.
The winner of tonight’s clash will join Australia, England, Wales and Fiji in Pool A-aptly known as the ‘group of death’.
Raphael Saint-Andre’s Russia edged a tight affair in Krasnoyarsk 22-21 a fortnight ago but with only a point in it, its all to play for tonight.
Buoyed by a passionate home crowd and hot weather, Pablo Lemoine’s Uruguay will be confident of making their third World Cup, following their 1999 and 2003 campaigns. While the Bears will be looking to qualify for their second consecutive World Cup following their 2011 appearance.
Uruguay edged things up front last time with their powerful pack led by hooker and skipper Nicolas Klappenbach, dominating the scrum and their rolling maul giving the Russians plenty of problems. This forward pressure saw the Russians give away a raft of penalties and have two players yellow carded. If they can gain the upper hand up front again they can force their opponents to give away penalties, which Fly-half Felipe Berchesi can convert.
French based Berchesi was immaculate with the boot last week, kicking all of his team’s points, and will need to be in top form once again if Uruguay are to win.
While Russia, who looked more dangerous behind and scored the game’s only try, need to gain some kind of parity up front in order to secure decent ball for their dangerous backs. Given some space centres Vasily Artemyev, centre Dimitry Gerasimov and fullback Ramil Gaisin can cause the Urugyan defence some problems.
They will also need to tighten up their discipline which was poor in Siberia whilst also being more clinical in attack. This lack of a clinical edge saw them waste a host of good chances last time out -something which they cannot afford to do at the Charrua stadium tonight.
Yuri Kushnarev’s contribution will be crucial as well. The 65 times capped fly-half was impressive with the boot two weeks ago, contributing 17 of Russia’s 22 points and must be equally clinical this evening. The Yenisey-STM pivot must also release his backline effectively as he did in the first leg if Russia are to make their superiority behind count.
It’s going to be a tight, tense affair between two evenly matched teams but I’m tipping Uruguay to just edge it by virtue of home advantage and a better pack.