Today’s game, in which Fiji were beaten by an incredible performance from Uruguay, was one of those occasions where all the emotion, the myths and the history surrounding sport erupt to produce the spectacle to match. And what a spectacle it was, with Uruguay coming out on top in a topsy turvy 30 – 27 classic.
For Uruguay, everyone has heard the tale of Old Christians RFC; the club, who, when flying to a game in Chile in 1972 crashed and spent 72 days starving on an Andean glacier. Immortalised in the film ‘Alive,’ this event imbues Uruguayan rugby with a deep sense of importance, and the kind of emotional energy that was on show today.
Likewise, the game was played in Kamaishi, in the only purpose-built venue at this year’s Rugby World Cup, on the site of a school destroyed by the devastating 2011 Tsunami. With Japan’s Crown Prince present, a moment of silence observed to remember the 1,000 who died and local children in the crowd, there was a palpable sense of recovery and poignance.
It was the Uruguayans who were best able to rise to the occasion, showing all the hunger, determination and desire to win characteristic of the incredibly successful Uruguayan football team. Indeed, there were echoes of Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani, and their insatiable will to compete, in today’s performance.
All in all, this was a huge, potentially transformative victory for Uruguayan rugby. They have never beaten a tier one side but will surely be aiming for another scalp after achieving this one by playing some beautiful attacking rugby.
Uruguay have invested heavily in developing their youth program in the last four years and have finished in the top five in the World Junior Trophy throughout this World Cup cycle, as well as the top three twice.
The standout product of that investment is the 22 year old Santiago Arata, a scrum half who possesses electric and elusive running ability and has also been capped on the wing and at full back. His try, wriggling free of three Fijian defenders before racing away to score between the posts, was the pick of the bunch.
Uruguay went into the last World Cup with a raft of amateurs, but with the inception of Major League Rugby and an increased number of centrally contracted players, they are now a majority professional outfit. And it showed; organised and efficient, they were everything Fiji needed to be.
For the Fijians, their World Cup seems over already, and at the hands of a side 9 places below them in the world rankings. Hamstrung by the short turnaround (four days) from Saturday’s spirited loss to Australia, the fatigue was evident in their sluggish, complacent play. Their goalkicking was also dreadful, although exactly why Josh Matavesi was entrusted with those duties is inexplicable, and it is hardly his fault that he was.
Ultimately, both the physical and mental energy required to overcome the Uruguayans, who burned with far more intensity and desire, was absent. Every tournament needs an upset to give the underdogs some belief, hopefully this will kickstart a series of really competitive fixtures.
Written by Joe Ronan