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Shock Uruguay win something to savour but Fiji’s dudding by the draw leaves sour taste

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Roar Guru
25th September, 2019
7367 Reads

Uruguay’s shock shooting down of the flying Fijians in their Rugby World Cup 2019 opener was a defining moment for them, for South American rugby, for rugby minnows everywhere, for this tournament and for the international game.

It was also a bad indictment on Rugby World Cup scheduling. But more on that later.

Let’s revel in Los Teros’ win. As World Cup boil-overs go it was right up there with Japan’s defeat of the mighty Springboks four years and five days previous and Samoa’s two stormings of Wales’ Cardiff fortress in both 1991 (as Western Samoa) and ’99.

Certainly it was Uruguay’s biggest moment on the biggest stage, far eclipsing their two previous World Cup wins against Georgia in 2007 and Spain in 1999. The scenes of utter elation after the final whistle were as joyful as they were triumphant. Wide-eyed blokes in sky blue whooping and hollering about the sun-drenched turf of the magnificent Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium were a reminder of sport’s unrivalled power to surprise and delight – its unique ability to conjure raw, simple emotion and cut through the mind-numbing clutter of this day and age.

Uruguay’s performance is testament to its vast improvement in recent times. Between the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups they won 37 per cent of their games. Between the 2015 and 2019 tournaments their win rate rocketed to 65 per cent – a ratio Michael Cheika could only dream of.

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The win against Fiji was their sixth in eight games in 2019, including a seven-point victory over the USA.


Much of this improvement can be attributed to a rapid acceleration in professionalism that Uruguayan rugby has undergone since the 2015 World Cup. Back then they were the only amateur team in the tournament with just four professional players. Now Los Teros have 21 full-time, centrally-contracted pros in their squad.

Much of this due to the installation of a purpose-built high performance rugby centre at Montevideo’s Charrúa Stadium – a project funded partly by World Rugby, the Uruguayan Rugby Union (URU), the Uruguayan government and private companies. Another key is the appointment of highly regarded Argentine Esteban Meneses as coach.

Meneses has used the luxury of a largely full-time squad and the state-of-the-art facilities at his disposal to get his charges fit, skilled and raring to play a relentlessly up-tempo game. Their speed on attack and tenacity is defence was too much for a sloppy, disjointed Fiji who looked for all the world like they thought merely turning up would be enough to secure the win. Eighty minutes was not long enough for them to get over the shock that this was not the case.

Los Teros.

Los Teros celebrate their epic upset over Fiji. (Warren Little/World Rugby via Getty Images)

But you’ve got to feel for Fiji.

They were backing up merely four days after an intensely physical encounter against the Wallabies, where it was the Fijians doing most of the physical stuff.

Pushing Australia so hard would have left them mentally, emotionally and physically spent, yet they had to get themselves up against a team fresh and peaking for their first game, barely half a week later.


While saying he didn’t want to use the short turnaround as an excuse, Fiji coach John McKee mentioned it as a major factor in his preparation when speaking to media following the loss.

“It was certainly one of the things we talked about before the match,” McKee said.

“We knew we were coming off the short turnaround and that Uruguay were going to be very focused on this first match. We tried to take the same mindset from Australia into this game.”

Although McKee had made 12 changes from the side that lost to the Wallabies, any uptick in freshness was countered by a lack of cohesion and commitment.

Given that the Pacific Islanders thrashed Uruguay 68-7 just last year, it’s hard not to think their dudding by a World Cup scheduling that favours the big guns had sway in their performance last night.

By comparison, defending champs New Zealand have 11 luxuriant days from their opening heavyweight bout against the Springboks to prepare for their next assignment against Canada on October 2.


Sure, the All Blacks have only a four-day turnaround before their following game against Namibia, but the draw has already given them ample time to recover from their toughest pool challenge by far.

All tier-one nations average a week between games at this World Cup, a full day or two more than the tier-two battlers and it’s always been thus.

This is doubly hard for the Pacific Island teams and the likes of Georgia, whose squad usually only comes together from their European clubs for a short period before the tournament starts.

Their cup has often runneth over before they’ve had a chance to properly introduce themselves.

Rather than ensuring the rich get richer, I’d love to see World Rugby actually follow through on its rhetoric of growing the global game and turn the scheduling screws on the haves rather than the have-nots at its global showpiece.