RWC moments: Ormaechea – the granddaddy of them all
Uruguay’s Diego Ormaechea was oldest player in Rugby World Cup history in 1999
Diego Ormaechea of Uruguay in action during the Rugby World Cup match against Spain played in Galashiels, Scotland. Uruguay won the game 27-15. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Allsport
Uruguay made their Rugby World Cup debut in the 1999 tournament and the man who captained them, Diego Ormaechea, is considered to be the best player in the country’s history. In the course of an international career that spanned two decades, he won 73 caps, scoring 16 tries.
Getting to the World Cup was a huge deal for Los Teros – the Uruguayan team’s nickname is derived from the emblem on their jersey – whose rugby history goes back to the 19th century and the influence of Irish Christian Brothers in popularising the sport.
Ormaechea, a hard-running number eight, was 40 years old when the tournament started and thereby became the oldest player ever to have appeared at a Rugby World Cup, a record that has endured to this day. He led by example and scored a try in the 27-15 victory over Spain. He retired from rugby aged 41 in 2001.
Four years later, Uruguay again qualified for the tournament and this time Ormaechea coached the national side, matching the playing record of the 1999 Rugby World Cup by winning one match, this time beating Georgia 24-14. One of the top veterinary surgeons in South America, he specialises in working within the thoroughbred horse racing industry and currently coaches at club level.
Following in footsteps
It wasn’t the end for the family association with the tournament. In the 2015 Rugby World Cup Agustín Ormaechea followed in the footsteps of his father. Agustín, then 24, played for French club Stade Montois – he still does – having made his debut for Uruguay in 2011. He said at the time: “I am proud to be here and to have people talk about my father, and how he made his mark, so I will try to follow in his footsteps.”
Los Teros lost all four matches in the tournament – they were in a pool with Wales, Australia, England and Fiji – but Ormaechea started every game. He had the distinction of scoring one of only two tries that Uruguay managed across 320 minutes in a 47-15 defeat to Fiji in which the scrumhalf also kicked a conversion. In the 66 minutes before being replaced he also spent 10 of them in the sin bin.
Coincidentally in this year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, Uruguay will once again oppose Wales, Australia and Fiji at the pool stage with Georgia in the group rather than England this time. Agustín, 28, will emulate his father Diego in being in two rugby World Cups, albeit as scrumhalf twice as a player. The last of his 45 caps to date – he has scored 150 points for his country including seven tries – came against Spain during the summer.
Uruguay have qualified for the World Cup finals on four occasions (1999, 2003, 2015, 2019) and the Ormaechea family name will have graced each one, a remarkable record for the father and son from Montevideo.