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World Cup starts down Mexico way

Fri, 23 Mar 2012 00:00
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The road to the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England will start not in one of the sport's heartlands but in the unlikely setting of Mexico City on Saturday.

There Mexico, best known in sporting terms for football, will face Jamaica, the Caribbean island that has produced a succession of gifted West Indies cricketers, in the first of 184 matches that will yield just eight qualifiers to play alongside rugby's 'big boys' in three years' time.

Saturday's match may be far removed from the sight of New Zealand beating France in last year's World Cup Final on home soil in Auckland, but the games do have some things in common - they will both be refereed by South Africa's Craig Joubert and the Webb Ellis Trophy will be in attendance as well.

And, unlike last year's Final, both Mexico and Jamaica will have their match shirts presented to them on Friday by a World Cup winner in Lawrence Dallaglio, a member of England's victorious 2003 team.

But while playing at Dallaglio's old stamping ground of Twickenham in 2015 may be a goal beyond both this weekend's teams, for Mexico, who only became a full member of the IRB in 2006, the qualification campaign is part of a wider plan for developing the game in the Central American nation.

"This year the plan is to try and to get to the final of NACRA (North America Caribbean Rugby Association)," explained Simon Pierre, Mexico's New Zealand-born coach, who also plays at No. 8, in an IRB statement.

"Of course we would love to win (that) competition but it's a process that always takes time," added Pierre, who arrived in Mexico in 2008 aiming to stay for just six months before moving to Europe but who is now, after stints coaching the Under-19s and Sevens national sides, in charge of the senior team.

"We're now into the second year of the process. It's just a case of getting the skill levels up," he explained.

Tom Jones, the IRB's regional general manager for North America and the Caribbean believes that in years to come Mexico, like Argentina, could become a significant rugby force.

"It is going to be one of the bigger unions because of what they're doing and the potential size of it," he said.

"Mexico are favourites for this first game, but I think it will be close. Mexico have only started to grow the way the IRB wants it to - we call it a major market investment - very recently.

"Five years ago, there were only half a dozen clubs playing in Mexico City. Now, they have 100 clubs around the country. But it still takes a long time to build a national team, and there are a lot of challenges to it that USA and Canada have been dealing with for 100 years.

"Mexico will emerge as the strongest union in the region eventually, but nothing happens all that quickly," he said.

AFP

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