KAMAISHI, IWATE PREF. – The Fijian players will pause in silence before their Rugby World Cup game against Uruguay to commemorate those who died in the 2011 tsunami that devastated the region.
Then the plan is to run relentlessly for 80 minutes and put on a show at the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium on Wednesday.
The venue was built on the grounds of two schools destroyed by the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit much of Japan’s northeastern coastline. It will host one more pool game next month.
The Fijians have had some experience there already, getting a sense of the place in a 34-21 loss to Japan in July during the Pacific Nations Cup.
After running Australia ragged for an hour last Saturday, Fiji lost its opening game 39-21 at the World Cup to the two-time champion.
That has made Fiji more determined to gain momentum in games against Uruguay and Georgia before an Oct. 9 showdown against Wales that could have a quarterfinals spot at stake.
“Certainly there is some significance with the game being at Kamaishi,” Fiji coach John McKee said. “We know that it is very important for the people of this area and for the team to pay our respects to the people of this region.”
McKee made 12 changes to his starting lineup, two enforced by injuries and others to give his backup players valuable tournament experience while giving some front-line stars like flyhalf Ben Volavola a break.
“We certainly did a lot of good things against Australia but, in the end, we weren’t good enough to win that match,” he said. “We are on a four-match series to qualify for the playoffs, so the Uruguay game is a very important part of that quest.”
Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu, who along with Leone Nakarawa is one of two remaining starters in the forward pack from last weekend, said the players knew what was expected of them despite the short turnaround.
“We have made a few changes for the team this week but it doesn’t change the way that we play or our focus,” he said. “This is a very important game and we are not going to take the game against Uruguay lightly. The mindset is the same … we are treating every team the same.”
Henry Seniloli and Josh Matavesi will combine in the halves, and Jale Vatubua is returning from a seven-week injury layoff to form a new midfield combination with Semi Radradra, who started against Australia on the wing.
Filipo Nakosi adds pace on one wing and Vereniki Goneva adds his try-scoring experience on the other.
Fiji has form against Uruguay, racing to a 68-7 win in England last November, a week before upsetting France 21-14.
Uruguay is opening its campaign on Wednesday, having one of the longest waits to get going.
Assistant coach Oscar Duran said the team had taken advantage of the extended preparation time, and had the extra motivation of playing at Kamaishi.
“We are all aware of what happened with the tsunami here, (and) what it means for everyone in Kamaishi and all of Japan to be playing a Rugby World Cup match here,” he said. “We find ourselves moved by the extraordinary work that the entire community has put into readying this in only eight years.”
Two sons of Uruguay great Diego Ormaechea have been included on the bench.
Ormaechea scored a try in Uruguay’s win over Spain in 1999 and was the oldest player, at 40, to compete in the Rugby World Cup.
Scrumhalf Agustin Ormaechea, who started all four of Uruguay’s games in the 2015 World Cup, was replaced in one of three changes to the starting lineup that lost to Spain in a test in July. Diego Arbelo, Santiago Arata and Felipe Berchesi were promoted to start ahead of Juan Pedro Rombys, Leandro Leivas and Ormaechea, who is on the bench with his brother and back-rower Juan Diego Ormaechea.
Agustin was red carded in the 66th minute of the last World Cup game between the teams in 2015, when Fiji won 47-15.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5