Los Teros went 14-0 down after just 11 minutes before coming back to win 36-26 in Lyon
For so long it looked like Namibia would end a run of 25 successive Rugby World Cup defeats. Allister Coetzee’s side could not have asked for a better start in Lyon. Gerswin Mouton scored after 59 seconds and when JC Greyling added another ten minutes later to make it 14-0, the Welwitschias were daring to dream of the unthinkable.
They even registered their highest ever points total in a Rugby World Cup match, their score of 26 – 16 of which came from fly-half Tiaan Swanepoel’s boot – eclipsed the 25 they managed against Fiji back in 2011.
However, it was still not enough as Uruguay had other ideas. This is a game Los Teros have been targeting as their opportunity for a victory for the last three years. They had also identified Italy as a chance to claim a first Tier One scalp and came very close to that after a commanding first-half display before falling away.
It required the second biggest World Cup comeback of all time for Los Teros to emerge victorious at OL Stadium in Lyon. Only Romania, who came back from 15 points down against Canada in 2015 to win, have eclipsed that feat.
Uruguay rallied impressively after being stunned early on, tries for full-back Balthazar Amaya and hooker German Kessler ensured they only went in 20-12 down as Swanepoel kept the scoreboard ticking.
And while Namibia were always likely to fade as the second half wore on, they are the first team to conclude their Rugby World Cup 2023 campaign having played four games in 18 days, they did not help themselves with a spate of ill-discipline.
You thought the first second-half score would be crucial and when Swanepoel slotted another three-pointer to make it 23-12, Uruguay were staring down the barrel of a third defeat with only the All Blacks to come.
But when they were awarded a very kickable penalty right next to the Namibian posts, captain Andres Vilaseca rolled the dice and elected to scrum. That decision paid massive dividends as Namibia infringed again and Mathieu Raynal had seen enough, sin-binning tighthead prop Johan Coetzee.
Uruguay deny Namibia first win
And boy did Uruguay make them pay. The 14-man Namibia shipped 14 points in the ten minutes Coetzee was off, with flanker Prince Gasoeb being sacrificed.
First Amaya grabbed his second with a diving acrobatic finish in the corner which fly-half Felipe Etcheverry expertly converted from the touchline. Then scrum-half Santiago Arata showed off his fancy footwork to score, the No 10 again adding the extras to propel Uruguay into a 26-23 lead.
The drama was far from over, though. Two minutes of madness swung the game further in Uruguay’s direction. First, Namibia’s stand-in captain Tjiuee Uanivi, with Johan Deysel banned for his red card on Antoine Dupont, was sin-binned for a high tackle and barely 120 seconds later replacement prop Desiderius Sethie was also shown yellow for making head contact.
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Both were reviewed by the bunker, with mitigation saving Uanivi while a clearly devastated Sethie was handed a red card. That left Namibia down to 13 for ten minutes and Uruguay duly capitalised as winger Bautista Basso collected a cross-field kick to register the try bonus point which theoretically keeps the South Americans alive in the group.
Namibia refused to lie down and yet another Swanepoel penalty clawed them back to a one-score game at 33-26. Sub Felipe Berchesi’s penalty gave Uruguay breathing room but there was still time for their own yellow card as Eric Dosantos trudged from the field after a head-on-head contact. He was spared red with mitigation found in a collision that he appeared to come off decidedly worse in.
The wait goes on for at least another four years for Namibia, who also bizarrely had to contend with Johan Retief being ruled out after he was bitten by a spider. But Uruguay showed plenty of mettle to ensure they will not leave this tournament without the win they deserved for some impressive performances against far better sides in France and Italy.