KAMAISHI, IWATE PREF. – Wednesday may have been a little breezy, but overall it was an absolutely beautiful day with a vivid blue sky above as Kamaishi Unosumai Recovery Memorial Stadium hosted its first-ever Rugby World Cup game.
Uruguay pulled off a stunning upset in the Pool D contest, beating Fiji 30-27 in front of a capacity crowd of 14,025.
The thrilling game had a much deeper significance because it was played in Kamaishi, one of the towns hit hardest by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan.
The stadium, the only purpose-built venue at the Rugby World Cup, was constructed on the site of a school destroyed by the tsunami. Hosting the match was seen as a powerful sign of the region’s recovery.
As Crown Prince Akishino looked on, the crowd observed a moment’s silence to remember the more than 1,000 people killed in the tsunami, with several children in the crowd removing their caps and bowing their heads in prayer.
Uruguay, competing in its fourth World Cup, posted its third-ever win and first since it bested Georgia in the 2003 edition. Fiji, which fell to Australia 39-21 at Sapporo Dome on Saturday, suffered its second consecutive loss at this year’s tournament.
“First, congratulations to our players. They left everything (on the field),” Uruguay head coach Esteban Meneses said after the game.
Meneses went on to say his squad had prepared for four years for the World Cup and “won like a team.”
Playing in its first game of the tournament, Uruguay appeared fresher and was more energetic than Fiji, which looked shaky and committed a number of miscues. The South Americans had three tries in the first half alone and built a 24-12 lead before the intermission.
Fiji started its rally in the second half and reduced the deficit with two tries to make the score 27-22 with less than 15 minutes remaining. But Uruguay’s Felipe Berchesi slotted a huge penalty goal with five minutes left to make it a two-score game.
Fiji scored a try in the 81st minute but it was too little, too late.
“We’re a really proud nation and we work together as a team,” said Berchesi, who made all his kicks including three penalty goals and was selected as player of the match. “I’m really proud of the boys. (It was a) great effort to win.”
Berchesi described the result as “unreal,” adding that it was “A really good day for Uruguayan rugby today.”
“We’re a small union but we keep showing the world that we’re in a good place,” he said. “And they have to support us because we’ve proved ourselves strong today.”
Fiji failed to connect two conversion kicks and a penalty goal, which ultimately cost the Pacific island nation the game.
The loss makes the Flying Fijans’ chances of advancing to the knockout stage extremely slim.
“Everything went wrong today,” Fiji captain Dominiko Waganiburotu said. “It’s not the result we wanted. It’s not the way we wanted the game to go today. We underestimated a very good Uruguay team in the first outing for them. Congratulations to them.”
Uruguay will travel to Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, to take on Georgia in its next game on Sunday, while Fiji will also face Georgia at Hanazono Stadium in Higashiosaka, Osaka Prefecture, on Oct. 3.
The venue in Kamaishi is scheduled to host one more game, a Pool B contest between Canada and Namibia.
Information from AFP-Jiji added