Why Uruguay’s victory over Fiji at the 2019 World Cup has global significance too


The greatest day in Uruguay rugby history

How do you miss 48 tackles in 80 minutes and still win a Test match against a top-ten team? Ask Uruguay, for that’s exactly what they did against Fiji in their opening game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

That tackle statistic is quite incredible. The Teros may have made 155 tackles but they missed 48 for a success rate of 76% – hardly the sort of figures that usually lead to a victory. Yet they scrambled effectively on so many occasions when a tackle was missed to bring down Fiji’s dangerous runners – and there were plenty of them!

Greatest day in Uruguay rugby history

Mad scramble: Filipo Nakosi is halted by two Uruguay defenders (Getty Images)

Related: Fiji 27-30 Uruguay Match Report

A quick glance through the statistics without knowing the result would suggest the islanders had run away with this game – 687 metres made, 15 line breaks, 21 ball carries from Leone Nakarawa alone. But pride and passion cannot be measured as easily and that’s exactly what Uruguay delivered.

Fiji may have had the individual stars in their line-up, but the power of the collective is what came to the fore for the South Americans and secured only their third World Cup win in history.

People will point to the four-day turnaround Fiji had between the Australia and Uruguay matches, as well as their profligacy in possession – they conceded 27 turnovers – and goalkicking inaccuracy, but to highlight Fiji’s flaws is to miss Uruguay’s strengths and does the Teros a disservice.

Fiji have inflicted a few World Cup shocks in their time but it was they who got caught out by perhaps underestimating the Uruguayans here.

Uruguay are 19th in the world rankings – higher only than Russia (20), Canada (22) and Namibia (23) at this World Cup. Little was expected of them, especially in a pool as competitive as this, although it’s not quite as bad as the one they had in 2015, when they lost all their games to Australia, England, Fiji and Wales.

Greatest day in Uruguay rugby history

Fitting stage: A lineout during Fiji v Uruguay (Getty Images)

Yet the reason we love sport is when people or teams exceed expectations, spring surprises and cause upsets. That’s exactly what we saw from Uruguay – and it was apt that it happened in Kamaishi, the ground built to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. An emotional setting for an emotional win.

Related: Rugby World Cup Greatest Shocks

And that raw emotion shown at the final whistle, players and coaches in tears, was reminiscent of Uruguay’s first foray into this tournament in 1999, when Diego Ormaechea scored a try – at the age of 40 no less – as he led his country to victory against Spain.

It’s somewhat fitting, then, that his two sons – Juan Diego and Agustin – came off the bench to share in another famous win here at Japan 2019.

Rugby is a strong tradition in the Ormaechea family and the hope is that a victory such as this can act as a springboard to get more Uruguayans involved in the sport. For so long, they have been the little brother to Argentina in South American rugby but if they can build on this, their greatest day, they can increase their talent pool and become more competitive on the world stage.

Greatest day in Uruguay rugby history

Show of support: Uruguay fans celebrate a famous victory (Getty Images)

Uruguay already have several players involved with Major League Rugby clubs in the USA and there are plans to launch a professional league in South America too. This result will only help raise the profile of the sport and hopefully speed up such developments.

Plus, with the youngest squad at this World Cup, there is huge scope for improvement – and more significant victories – over the coming years.

“We were looking to shock the world – and we have taken the first step,” said Uruguay captain Juan Manuel Gaminara afterwards. “Now we want the win with Georgia as well as to continue achieving our goals – and that is to win both matches. We are all confident and believe it’s possible. We set out to be leaders. This team did a great job today and will do so again.”

While Uruguay play Georgia on Sunday, they should take the time to savour this win. It’s significant not just for them but the global game, proving that there is still scope for shocks in Test rugby.

Let’s hope this is the first but not the last upset we see at Japan 2019.

Follow our Rugby World Cup homepage, which we update regularly with news and features.

Follow Rugby World magazine on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.