“I am not good with statistics; I don’t really know how many games I’ve played,” says Diego Magno.

Whilst World Rugby has his count at 89, Magno knows he has well passed former cap holder Rodrigo ‘Paleta’ Sánchez with 68. Having played for Uruguay at U19, U20, Sevens and 15s, the number of times he has proudly donned the light blue jersey escapes him.

Whatever the figure, it's clear that Magno, first capped in 2008, is currently the longest-serving, and possibly the proudest, Tero. He is in line to take to the field against Romania in the series that will be played at the Charrúa Stadium in Montevideo over the next two weeks.

His story in the light blue jersey represents the road his country has taken, embracing high performance rugby and qualifying for the last three Rugby World Cups.

“Reaching 100 would just mean that I'm older” laughs the 33-year old.

His first big rugby decision was taken at 18. “I had a month-long fully paid school trip to Italy and was also selected for Uruguay U19. I chose rugby and have never looked back.”

The long road

After playing in the final U19 World Championship in 2007, he played in the inaugural U20 Trophy, beating Chile in the final in Santiago.

“I played that game as second-row, but most of my career before and after, was spent as a flanker,” he recalls, acknowledging that coach Esteban Meneses now sees him as a lock.

His first test was against Russia in Bucharest. He got a late call to join the team and within hours was travelling on his own, a trip that would merit a special story.

“Since then, I only missed very few games,” he says as he tries to remember which. In this list is one Tbilisi Cup that Magno missed because of university exams he forced himself to take, and one other game that was missed because of a fracture, but not many more.

The only game for which he was available but wasn’t selected was the game against Canada in 2018 that booked them the ticket to Japan.

“We were 25 in the squad and I missed out. I didn’t like it but took it as a message that I needed to work harder.”

The following game was against Brazil and he quickly redeemed himself.

His competitive nature came through, which comes handy when you are playing your 15th season of international rugby.

Lack of height

Standing 1.88 metres tall, Magno is well aware that he often competes against taller opposites. “I compensate by running more, being closer to the ball and making myself visible.

“I’ve always been competitive and to be that you need to be fit, a mindset that has allowed me to play this long with very few injuries.

“With time, I learnt how to manage my time and enjoy other things outside of the game.”

Father Fabio, his biggest fan, had played rugby for L’Aquila and at 19, being eligible to represent Italy, Diego was offered a move to Italy and to maybe eventually play for the Azzuri.

“I never wanted to play for any other country than Uruguay,” he concludes.

High Performance

When the Uruguayan Rugby Union embraced high performance rugby, Magno was delighted, having taken his own road to a high performance level.

Having played against Romania in the draw at home and followed by a loss in Bucharest that took the Oaks to New Zealand in 2011, it was clear things had to change in Uruguayan rugby.

They did. Starting in 2012, and with Magno a regular name in the team list, tickets were booked for Rugby World Cup 2015, Rugby World Cup 2019 and now, Rugby World Cup 2023 in France.

“One of the most important games in my career,” he reflects, “was the game against Russia in 2014.”

Having lost in Krasnoyarsk 22-21, the second game was a winner-takes-all ahead of the following year’s Rugby World Cup.

“That game was bigger than what I knew then. We had to prove our growth as a Union and team; by winning, it paved the way for what would then come.

“And what followed was incredible!”

A recent new father to two-month old Santino, Magno's big goal now is France 2023.

Also vying for a spot in France is Chile, with who Magno has a deep relationship, beating them 10 times in 12 tests. A good friend of Cóndores flanker Ignacio Silva, Magno's opponent in that Trophy final of 2008 and many other battles since, Magno hopes Chile can beat the USA and book a place in Rugby World Cup 2023.

“It would show how much the South American region has grown for rugby.”

Uruguay need to continue growing ahead of next year's tournament and Romania is the next challenge.

In seven games against the Oaks, Magno drew the first and won in 2018, when an interception in the 81st minute gave them the unlikely win in Bucharest.

“We compete against them in the rankings as we currently stand at 18th and they are 19th; beating them would push us further up the rankings which is positive as we prepare for Rugby World Cup 2023,” he says.

“Games against Romania are also hard but enjoyable. Last November we lost 29-14 playing very badly. We have to correct that.

“At the end of the day, games such as this or the recent tour to Japan is what we need in order to grow. We know we are not that far, we only need more consistency in playing good quality teams.”