In South America, where the COVID-19 pandemic's presence was at first slow, the situation is now very volatile in most countries. Only Uruguay is in a slow return to action.

It is a huge fight – one that is seeing rugby once again feature on the frontline.

'A big opportunity to offer my little grain of sand'

María Eugenia Cruces, captain of the Uruguayan national team, is a biochemist. “I spend my day dressed as an astronaut, very warm, but happy," she recently told World Rugby en Español's podcast.

Cruces is currently preparing for her Doctorate in Celular and Molecular Biology while working at the Pasteur Institute and the hospital of the same name.

Uruguay is the country that has best controlled the pandemic in South America. Being a small country, the smallest in the region, it was able to make quick decisions. People took notice and the virus did not circulate as well as it did in other countries. 

There was a huge effort by the Uruguayan health system to perform case by case analysis; testing numbers were high, and measures were taken according to information gathered. Today, the number of cases is very small.

“At the Institute, we developed a diagnosis method to assist the public sector. They asked for volunteers and I offered."

In rugby, Cruces found the sport she loved because of the characteristics of the game, but also because there is a role for everyone and it is all about the team and not a standout player.

She sees her role in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic as "a big opportunity to offer my little grain of sand in the current situation, using the weapons I have at my disposal.

“I am close to people that have a lot of information. Sometimes, lack of information generates fear, but seeing and understanding things helps."

Light at the end of the tunnel

Rugby in Uruguay is in a much better position than in the rest of the region, with it already preparing to return to action. Under protocols, U19 and senior teams are now back at training. 

Dr Marcelo Santurio, Medical Director of the Unión de Rugby del Uruguay, tells World Rugby: “Most of the clubs are now between the fourth and sixth week of training, already playing touch rugby, attack and defence drills with no tackles. Focus is on individual skills, a lot of passing, some lineout work and scrums are all about posture."

It is expected that there will be friendly games at the end of the month, and the domestic tournament is to start as soon as football gets the green light.

In the meantime, Santurio explains that “each club has a COVID-19 manager. Players fill a form before each session, temperatures are checked. We encourage the use of masks as they drive to training; we discourage meetings and gatherings. Players take their own bottles, no changing rooms are used, and we ensure that contact is as limited as it can be in training."

The Uruguayan national team is back working at the Centro Charrúa: “Teros is in the same stage; numbers are smaller and it is easier to deal with them,” says Santurio.

From the field to the hospital

Francisco Urroz is close to completing his medical studies. The start of the Superliga Americana de Rugby, where the Chilean XV and sevens international played full-back for Selknam, allowed him time to focus on his professional career as well as his studies.

The COVID-19 pandemic stopped rugby, but it allowed Urroz to focus on university, despite not being able to attend classes. He also began helping in a local hospital, in Santiago, Chile's capital.

“We were given the opportunity to work two weeks and then spend two weeks quarantined, this way we don't expose others," he explains. 

“The hospital is part of the public system; patients with fewer resources come to us, generally speaking in worse shape because our urgency unit is collapsed," Urroz tells World Rugby, from an apartment where he is spending his two weeks of isolation. Before joining the front-line, Urroz assisted with follow-up phone calls to patients.

Close to turning 27, he is hoping to become a sports traumatologist. In the meantime, he is making invaluable lessons.

“It is a strong situation I've had to go through, one that makes you realise the fragility of the human being."

But these experiences have ratified Urroz's love for medicine: "When you are in situations such as these, it is medicine that allows you to help and contain patients. I loved being there and able to add my bit."

Read more: The rugby family reacts to the COVID-19 pandemic >>