There has never been a World Cup match like the one they played in Kamaishi this bright, blue, Wednesday afternoon, when it felt like every single one of the town’s 35,000 residents was out on the streets, handing out high fives and hellos, gifts of flags, fans, and handkerchiefs to the fans.
The world’s media was here, too, all drawn to the story of the little town’s recovery from the devastating tsunami that hit it in 2011, and so was Crown Prince Akishino. They got a game worth watching, too, the first upset of the World Cup, as Uruguay beat Fiji 30-27, despite being nine places below them in the world rankings.
It was Uruguay’s first World Cup win in 16 years, and only their third ever. Given the others were against Georgia in 2003 and Spain in 1999, this must rate as the greatest game they’ve ever played.
Fiji, on the other hand, are now all but out of the World Cup after two defeats in five days. Only two teams in the tournament’s history have ever made it through to the quarter-finals after losing two pool matches. They were abject, tired, sloppy, and complacent. They made almost as many handling errors as they managed to score points.
Uruguay led 24-12 after a ring-a-ding first half. They scored three tries in that time, and were within an inch of securing a bonus point with a fourth, too. Fiji, who’d made 12 changes to team that lost to Australia on Saturday, scored two of their own, both from short range off the back of scrum penalties which they kicked into touch.
In between, Uruguay scored their first after they swept up a loose ball, spilled by Leone Nakarawa as he tried a wildly ambitious offload. Scrum-half Santiago Arata wriggled, slipped, and squirmed through three tackles on his way to the try line.
Manuel Diana scored Uruguay’s second off the back of a line-out, after Juan Manuel Cat had charged down Alivereti Veiotakani’s clearance. Cat got the third himself, after a spectacular offload by Rodrigo Silva.
The move started with another bit of poor play by the Fijians, after Semi Radradra left a high kick that was seized by Uruguay’s full back, Gaston Mieres. Radrada almost gifted them a fourth with another loose pass, which Andres Vilaseca hacked downfield. The two of them raced each other to the ball as it bobbled over the line, but the replays showed Vilaseca had just knocked on as he dived for it.
Fiji made a worse mistake right after the half, when Tevita Ratuva blew a three-on-one by passing the ball straight to Uruguyan instead of a teammate. Then Josh Matavesi missed a simple penalty attempt.
He missed a conversion minutes later, after Api Ratuniyarawa bullied his way over for Fiji’s third, was even worse. Uruguay never did get that fourth try. But it didn’t matter.
The two penalties Felipe Berchesi kicked in the second half put them eight points ahead, even after Nikola Matawalu scored a fourth try for Fiji. Even though Matawala got a fifth in the very last minute, it still wasn’t enough to prevent defeat.