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Super Rugby Americas should feature a satisfied Manuel Ardao. A few days before it all kicks off, he will have presented the final thesis of his architecture degree and will be able to fully focus on rugby.
The flanker will begin the new continental competition having finished the third edition of the Superliga Americana de Rugby, the previous tournament for South American franchises, as champion and Player of the Tournament. His ability to steal opposition ball at the breakdown was an asset for his team.
Peñarol Rugby will aim to reach the final stages again; players will also know that they are playing for a place in the Uruguay squad that will play for the fifth time, and third in a row, at Rugby World Cup.
“The other day we talked as a group about how important it was to compete in Rugby World Cup and win two games; but we also talked about the fact that there are steps that we cannot skip to get to France in the best possible condition,” said the youngest of two brothers who are great servants of Uruguayan rugby
“Today we must focus on Peñarol Rugby and Super Rugby Americas. Then the warm-up tests and finally the World Cup."
Manuel, 24, grew up following in the footsteps of Diego, who at 27 captains the competitive Uruguayan sevens team that is taking its first steps as a core team in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
“At home, we were always very sporty,” he said of his childhood. “We went to the Stella Maris School, where rugby is even more important than soccer.
"We also had the same passion for the game at Old Christians Club, the school’s FP club. My father had played rugby there until he was 19 years old.
“We started to enjoy rugby, we realised that we were good, and then it's work, sacrifice and the pride of representing your country. That will push you."
His older brother Diego paved the way, making "rugby something attractive".
After a stint with Los Teritos, Manuel joined Diego at the end of 2017 at Los Teros Sevens, playing together in 2018. That same year, he made his test debut against Fiji and would no longer play sevens.
“That first test against Fiji in November 2018 was a huge loss," he remembered. A few months later, the team shocked the world and beat the same opponent to record Uruguay’s biggest ever win.
“Beating them in Kamaishi was like winning the World Cup,” Ardao said.
"I didn't play that day, I came on against Georgia and then played 80 minutes against Australia."
“It was a tremendous experience. It was Disney, it was being in the Mecca of rugby,” Ardao added, comparing Rugby World Cup with two places of different but enormous value.
“Being younger, I had few minutes, and even so it was a spectacular experience. Of course, I still want to play in a World Cup as a starter.”
This year he will have that opportunity; Los Teros will debut against hosts France on 14 September, in Lille, before playing against Italy (20 September, in Nice), Namibia (27 September in Lyon) and the All Blacks (Lyon, 5 October).
“We have the opportunity to make headlines again in RWC 2023," Ardao said. "Playing against Italy in 2021 showed us we are not that far away and those goals motivate us.”
Super Rugby Americas will finally give participating teams the opportunity to play in a home and away format, which will generate great interest among the public and greater motivation among the players.
The previous Superliga Americana de Rugby was cancelled in its first year due to COVID and the following two seasons played in sanitary bubbles.
“We have to first play Super Rugby Americas to continue growing individually and collectively,” said Ardao emphatically.
“It is a long and demanding tournament, with a lot of travel, very physical.”
Although at the time of speaking the goals of Peñarol Rugby had not been fully set, Ardao stated that “we are the defending champions and we are going to take that responsibility".
"Peñarol Rugby is here to grow and improve the team and for the players to reach their peak of performance when France 2023 comes,” he added.
“SLAR 2022 was a very good tournament. I had a lot of fun and we tried to have fun with Peñarol; there is a different pressure than when you play with the national team.”
His game and his body language shows how much fun he has playing rugby. For him, last season was a great one.
“Things were happening but the team helped a lot," he explained. "I get the more eye-catching actions, but without my team-mates doing their thing, it's difficult for me to do mine.
"Whichever plays I did and took the plaudits, it was all thanks to my team-mates.”
With a 100 per cent Uruguayan squad and with some of the established players now in Europe, “many young players got into the system to compete; that fires us. These boys bring their energy and potential and it pushes us to be up to the task.”
Being one of the players to watch in this Super Rugby Americas, Ardao closes with the clarity that he always brings to his game and to life.
“A wonderful year is coming up.”
(Photo: Sudamérica Rugby / Gaspafotos)