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Diego Ardao: "My plan is to travel the world"
Having recently become a medical doctor, Diego Ardao, who led Los Teros to the win at the Challenger Series, is ready to put rugby at the top of his agenda for the following year.
During a TV interview that followed Los Teros becoming a core team on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series for the first time, Uruguayan captain Diego Ardao took the time to read out loud a list of more than 40 players and coaches that had played a part in Los Teros' success.
“I wrote the list two hours before the final as I knew that we would win it, that I was going to be interviewed and I had to thank many more than the current squad and staff,” said Ardao, back at home after an unforgettable week in Chile.
“They key to this team was the human factor. You can have a brilliant system, moves for every situation, but without the kinship, you have nothing.
“I named people I played and worked with since I joined in 2017; everybody was important in adding to the group and its sense of belonging.”
Lamenting those few he forgot to mention – there were other urgent matters such as preparing for a final – Ardao was the perfect leader of a team that lost two pool games, yet still found a way to deservedly win a place in the next series, something he has dreamt of since playing in Las Vegas and Vancouver in 2018.
“We were at the peak of maturity, the optimum moment and had this one shot which we took,” he said.
Back at the hotel after the victory, trainer Guillermo Selves had to take a dip in the freezing cold hotel pool, payback for all the times he had made the team do the same in the previous week. Another example of a tight team.
Ardao’s confidence ahead of the final against a strong Georgian team came from their focused preparation, which included a trip to Buenos Aires earlier in the year and another to Chula Vista, the home of the USA’s Olympic training facility, for a camp with Argentina, France and USA's sevens teams a couple of weeks before travelling to Santiago.
“Chula Vista was important as we brought back a few 15s players that had played sevens before, but needed to get back into the rhythm,” adds Ardao.
“And it showcased our weaknesses”.
It also brought the squad even closer, which was crucial when things did not go their way early in the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series.
Losing to Uganda on debut 26-12 sent some alarm bells ringing; although it hurt, it only meant they had to work harder.
“I was confident; this game did not define us as a team," he insisted. "We knew we could lose against Germany, we went out to score as many points against Lithuania as we could, as this would send us through as a best third-placed team.”
Eight tries, two by Ardao, gave them the 52-5 win. Despite the expected, albeit close loss to Germany 17-14, Uruguay went through.
As the stakes got harder, Tonga were beaten 17-12. Germany was next in the semi-finals.
“I’ve played five times against Germany and they are the same group of players, with a winning mentality, hard to stop, perfectionists and well organised.
“Beating them for the first time in the semi-final was very satisfying. We led throughout the game,” Ardao said.
So high was confidence that Ardao and his team knew that they would not lose regardless of the opposition.
“We had learnt about the mental side of playing a final, our focus, what we were capable of. And there was no team hungrier than us.”
Despite leading 19-5, only in the final scrum did he feel they had won it and his dream was going to be fulfilled.
Legend has it that Diego Sr. was a remarkable player who played at centre or wing. His two boys can play a bit too.
Diego, 27, has played rugby since he can remember and brother Manuel, three years his junior, followed suit – first at the Christian Brothers College in Montevideo, then at Old Christians and finally in the light blue jersey of their country.
An U18 and U20 international, Diego first played sevens in 2017. The programme wasn’t well supported and as a medical student, he decided to quit.
His younger brother was selected a week later and Diego returned, allowing them to play together.
Manuel is a key member of Los Teros' back-row, a turnover master who will be heading to his second Rugby World Cup next year in France.
Not playing for the national 15s side is not something that stings. “I found my place in sevens, I am very happy, I enjoy it. And you travel in smaller groups which allows you to have deeper connections.”
Having recently become a doctor, he will now put his career on hold as he pursues his dream of playing in Twickenham, visiting New Zealand for the first time and going back to Sydney, where he spent half a year on Bondi Beach.
It was there that he began to play the guitar.
“I like music very much and when I went to Australia I realised that I needed an instrument to stimulate my creativity," he explained.
"I took some lessons for about a year and a half. It certainly helped my artistic side but I am very shy and only play with close friends and family.”
He also started to read.
“Kafka, Sartre…they all leave you with a lesson”.
“My plan is to travel the world,” he says, smiling.
“What we achieved was great but we know we have to be up to scratch so we will have to prepare and work even harder.”
The Uruguayan rugby scene is in for a treat with the upcoming Superliga Americana de Rugby, as well as upcoming 2023 competitions for Los Teros 15s, sevens and U20s.
“A week ago we were told we would get some form of stipend until the end of the year, but we will need a change as we will be playing against players that have done this for years and we will need to work and rest, both physically and mentally,” Ardao said.
“It is a positive problem for our national union.”