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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Australia full-back Kurtley Beale is braced for another titanic tussle when the Wallabies meet World Cup rivals Wales on Sunday.
The winners at Tokyo Stadium will put a foot in the quarter-finals, especially after unheralded Uruguay’s stunning Pool D victory over Fiji on Wednesday.
Although Australia have won 13 of the last 14 Tests against Wales, many of those wins were by narrow margins.
And Wales ended a long losing run at Australia’s hands by beating them 9-6 when the countries last met during the 2018 autumn internationals.
“As a player, you always look forward to playing Wales,” Beale said.
“As nations, we bring the best out of each other. They are always great contests, and we’ve got a lot of respect for each other.
“No difference this week. We know they have come off a flying start (Wales beat Georgia 43-14 in their opening game). We are well aware of their threats.”
While Wales saw off Georgia, Australia were given a tough examination by Fiji before emerging victorious, setting up an eagerly-awaited encounter between two world rugby heavyweights.
“I feel like their (Wales’) defence has gone up another level,” Beale added.
“Over the tournament, all teams are focusing on their defence, so it’s going to be a little bit harder to crack.
“It places more importance on holding on to the ball, building pressure that way and hopefully matching them with fitness.
“It’s always going to go down to the wire. We know that, and we are prepared for that.
“I think it’s up to the team who wants it the most and is willing to go for the full 80 minutes. They got us last year. The battles are always epic.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Uruguay pulled off the first shock of the Rugby World Cup with a stunning 30-27 victory over Fiji.
The South American minnows, who were playing their first game of the tournament, condemned the Pacific Islanders to their second defeat in five days to leave their Pool D qualification hopes in tatters.
Uruguay’s thrilling upset was a fitting way to mark the opening of the new Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, which was built as a reminder to the people of the coastal fishing town which was almost wiped off the map by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011.
Prince Akishino, brother of the Japanese Emperor Naruhito, was in the 16,000-seater stadium to witness Uruguay’s first World Cup win since 2003.
Uruguay scored only two tries in the whole of the 2015 World Cup but they had three by half-time in Kamaishi as they put the wretched Fijians to the sword.
Coach John McKee opted to field just three players from Fiji’s opening game against the Wallabies but there was little hint of the drama to come when hooker Mesulame Dolokoto opened the scoring with an eighth-minute try.
A breakaway score from scrum-half Santiago Arata in the 13th minute shook the Pacific Islanders but loosehead prop Eroni Mawi restored their lead when he forced his way over for his first Test try and Josh Matavesi’s conversion made it 12-7.
However, Fiji continued to come up with errors and were punished in ruthless fashion by their enthusiastic and energetic opponents.
Midway through the first half number eight Manuel Diana rumbled over for a try from a line-out and four minutes later centre Juan Manuel Cat finished off a sweetly-worked move among the outside backs.
Felipe Berchesi kicked his third conversion and added a penalty three minutes before half-time to stretch the South Americans’ lead to 24-12.
Fiji led 21-12 against Australia only to lose 39-21, conceding 27 unanswered points, and had high hopes of turning the tables in similar fashion in the second half.
But the wayward Matavesi was wide with a penalty early in the second half and, although second row Api Ratuniyarawa burst through for a try, to give them renewed hope, Uruguay grew stronger.
A Berchesi penalty took their lead to 27-17 to equal their previous highest World Cup score and edge them closer to the unthinkable.
Replacement Nikola Matawalu peeled off a ruck to pull a try back after 66 minutes but Ben Volavola, who took over the goalkicking duties, missed the conversion to leave his side still trailing by five points.
Another Berchesi penalty kept the scoreboard ticking over for the underdogs and, although Matawalu went over for his second try in injury time to secure a losing bonus point, it was scant consolation.
Provided by Press Association Sport