The backdrop was so spectacular it could have been a picturesque island in the tropical Caribbean. It could have even been a dream it was so nice.
Kamaishi. The most wonderful location for a wonderful game, and so richly deserved it was to see Uruguay shock Fiji to deliver the biggest upset of the Rugby World Cup so far.
To see players, officials and families spark wild celebrations after the final whistle showed what it meant to a small country – with a population of 3.45 million – where rugby is considered a peripheral sport compared to football, basketball, tennis and handball.
Uruguay skipper Juan Manuel Gaminara shed tears of joy and struggled for words when interviewed after the match. During his days training alone in Montevideo, there’s no doubt he dreamt of magical moments like this.
Now, over 60 caps later, he can be proud of playing a critical role in one of rugby’s great victories.
His team worked hard, tackled their hearts out and did their best to stop a powerful Fiji side, who had almost pulled off their own shock in the opening pool game when they pushed the Wallabies all the way.
Whether this was a battle against two Tier 2 nations as such – Uruguay ranked 17 and Fiji are ranked 12 – the difference is Uruguay’s players are mainly amateur compared to Fiji’s stars who ply their trade across France and England.
In Kamaishi, 545km north of the capital Tokyo, it was more than a game in one of sport’s most famous competitions. It was a celebration after the devastation of a tsunami that hit eight years ago, killing nearly 1,000 and destroying the north-easten Japanese town.
With stunning hills and greenery, Kamaishi might just be one of the most beautiful backdrops in world rugby, or even world sport. And what a wonderful occasion for people to see through their television screens around the globe.
Few people gave Uruguay a chance coming into this game. They were expected to lose by 30 points. And expected to bow down to a dominant outfit like the Fijians. Who could have blamed them?
Their previous win in rugby’s global showpiece came against Georgia all the way back in 2003. Unlike every other nation, only 60 per cent of Uruguay’s players play full-time rugby due to the lack of resources.
But what they lack in overall organisation, they make up for in heart and pride for the jersey.
In 2015, they were the only amateur team competing at the World Cup, boasting just four professional players. Since then, they have tried to accelerate the professional process and now have 18 of their 31 players playing in leagues across Argentina, America, France, England and Canada.
Key to this growth has been the Charrua Stadium’s High Performance Centre in the capital Montevideo, which has been lauded by World Rugby as a model each other Tier 2 country should follow.
Like every small nation, formidable results don’t just appear overnight and it will take time to see their full development. The Fiji result, however, will certainly have a positive impact.
Felipe Berchesi Pisano will milk the headlines for his stellar kicking display and ability to control the game, but in outside centre Juan Manuel Cat and flanker Santiago Civetta, they possess two tigerish players who wouldn’t have looked out of place if they were wearing an All Blacks or Springboks shirt.
While many will point to a much changed Fiji side that lost to Australia last weekend, this was not a lucky victory by any means. Uruguay were the better team across the 80 minutes, scored three tries and were more physical in attack and defence.
Whether they go on to record another victory in the tournament remains to be seen, but what it will do is give the players and coaching staff more belief and hopefully inspire a young crop of players to take up the game back in Uruguay.
The likes of football superstars Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Godin will remain the poster boys because of their consistent global exposure, but the skill and pride Los Teros put into that performance against Fiji should merit more recognition from the Uruguayan public, and further afield.
Another victory against Georgia on Sunday may be tricky to pull off, especially with the short four-day turnaround. However, after their win over Fiji, they have the right to dream.
Grande muchachos, IMPRESIONANTE! orgullo uruguayo 💪💪💪🇺🇾 @RugbyUruguay— Luis Suarez (@LuisSuarez9) September 25, 2019
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