KAMAISHI, Japan (AFP) – Minnows Uruguay pulled off the greatest upset in their history yesterday as they stunned Fiji 30-27 to leave the Pacific islanders staring at an early exit from the Rugby World Cup.
John McKee’s Fiji had showcased their traditional running flair in a thrilling first 60 minutes against Australia, when they led the much-fancied Wallabies. But they ran out of steam in an error-strewn performance against Uruguay four days later.
The brave Uruguay XV were magnificent in a pulsating game at the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, running in three tries and clinging on desperately towards the end as Fiji threw everything at their lowly opponents.
It was the biggest rugby win in the history of Uruguay, who had only ever won two games at the World Cup and are ranked nine places below the Fijians, whom they had never beaten.
Asked if Fiji could still reach the quarter-finals, McKee admitted, “It is going to be challenging for us. We are relying a lot on other points now.” He said he was targetting a bonus-point win against Georgia next week before facing Six Nations champions Wales.
The New Zealander refused to blame the short turnaround for the defeat against the fresher South Americans, who were playing their first match. But he acknowledged the difficulty of taking the field again so soon after the bruising game against the Wallabies.
“For us, obviously with the short turnaround, though it isn’t an excuse, it is a challenge,” said McKee, who said his team’s dismal goalkicking had cost them dear.
Uruguay’s captain Juan Gaminara broke down in tears at the end of the game, saying, “We are not the biggest, we are not the tallest but we came here to win.”
“Since we qualified, we have been thinking about this game and you saw the passion. I’m really proud,” added Gaminara, whose squad contains several players with semi-professional status.
Despite giving away nearly 10 kilos a man in the pack, Uruguay competed up front and harried the Fijians out wide, rushing them into a litany of handling errors.
They took a deserved 24-12 lead into half-time and benefited from some extraordinary misses from the tee by Josh Matavesi, including some that seemed a formality.
Fiji had taken a shock lead of their own into the second half of their defeat by Australia, but this time they were the team needing a dramatic comeback.
They threw their heavy runners at a stout Uruguay defence but basic handling errors continued to thwart the Pacific islanders as the play broke up to resemble more of a game of sevens – a code at which Fiji are Olympic champions.
The final score flattered Fiji, as they scored a last-minute try that was too little too late to prevent wild Uruguay celebrations. Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu said, “Everything went wrong today. It’s not the result we wanted. It’s not how we wanted the game to go today. We underestimated a very good Uruguay team.”
McKee, who changed 12 players from the team that started against Australia, said Fiji had talked specifically about not taking Uruguay lightly.
“We tried to take the same mindset into the game as we took into the Australia game,” he said.
“This is the sport that we play and you cannot predict the outcome. And great credit goes to Uruguay for how they worked in the game and for each other and to get what is quite a historic result.”