Fiji 27 - 30 Uruguay World Cup Match Report
Uruguay got just rewards for their dogged determination, recording a shock 30-27 bonus-point win over Fiji to spark jubilant scenes at the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium.
Reaching their highest ever points total at the Rugby World Cup, Los Teros made a dream start in Pool D. They clung firmly onto a half time lead, as Fiji crumbled with a succession of handling errors and the faltering boot of Josh Matavesi.
Uruguay made up for a significant discrepancy in the respective sides’ top-level experience and pack size, with their sheer endeavour in both defence and attack.
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Fiji spent the opening minutes displaying the kind of soft hands and running rugby which has made the nation four-time World Rugby Sevens Series champions. They opened the scoring in the 7th minute with a try from hooker Mesulame Delukoto on his World Cup debut, after a smart move at the front of the line out.
But just over five minutes later, Uruguay showed the world they were ready to go punch-for-punch with Fiji. Scrum-half Santiago Arata wriggled through a soft Fiji line to score the second of an entertaining try-packed half, after hooker German Kessler had pounced on a loose ball following a wayward offload from Leone Nakawara.
Fiji then stormed straight back, with another front row allowing them to retake the lead. This time prop Eroni Mawi dived over from a metre out to score his first-ever international try. A conversion meant two-time quarter-finalists Fiji were now 12-7 ahead, but in the next five minutes, there was a passage of play which came to characterise the match.
Uruguay Capitalise on Fiji Carelessness
Fiji’s sloppiness during the game was summed up by full-back Alivereti Veitokani’s charged down kick. From the resulting line out, Uruguay’s number eight Manuel Diana ploughed through a leaky Fiji defence to put Uruguay back in front at 12-14.
And we only had to wait four more minutes for Uruguay’s third – a superb effort which featured some outstanding tackle riding, offloading and changes of direction from the South American backs, allowing Juan Manuel Cat to sprint through from the 22. Was this Uruguay beating Fiji at their own game?
After an excellent conversion from Felipe Berchesi, Uruguay nearly extended their 12-21 advantage before the half was out. Following an interception, the TMO confirmed that Andres Vilaseca had knocked the ball on after a grubber chase to the line. A Berchesi penalty saw Uruguay go into the break 24-12 up, as Fiji seemed to be drowning in a pool of their own handling mistakes.
In the second half, the wasted opportunities and unforced errors continued to mount. Early territorial advantage led to a penalty from a high tackle, which Fiji sides of the past might have tapped and ran. But the decision to opt for what seemed a straightforward kick backfired, as the misfiring Matavesi couldn’t take the opportunity.
Fiji did bring their early second-half ascendancy to bear in the 47th minute, when second-row Api Ratuniyarawa of Northampton Saints went over following a neat Matavesi run and offload. Matavesi, however, was still having a troubled time from the tee, failing to make the conversion and leaving his team 17-24 in arrears.
Wayward handling continued to blight Fiji’s efforts to find their rhythm. In contrast, a concerted forward push demonstrated Uruguay’s efficient play at the breakdown, and led to a Berchesi penalty which allowed them to equal their highest ever World Cup points total.
Time was running out for Fiji, and the alarm bells were answered on 66 minutes when replacement scrum-half Nikola Matawalu, one of the few bright sparks for the Pacific Islanders, started and finished a scoring move, selling a dummy from 1m before diving over. By this stage, Matavesi had been relieved of kicking duties by replacement Ben Volavola, but he too went wide with the conversion, setting up a mouthwatering last 15 minutes at 22-27.
On 74 minutes, a Berchesi penalty took Uruguay to within sight of the finishing line. Matawalu nearly broke through for what would have been a pivotal try with less than five minutes remaining, but Uruguay stood firm. Panicked Fiji did all they could. The TMO confirmed that Matawalu had not grounded the ball in a leap for the line, but just a minute later, the Glasgow Warriors man grabbed his second score to take a consolation bonus point for his side. The clock had, by then, run all the way down, and a missed conversion summed up an afternoon on which Fiji had fallen well short of expectations.
After losing their opening encounter to Australia, Fiji must look to win all their remaining games, starting with their match against Georgia in Osaka next Thursday (3rd October). Uruguay will play the Georgians first, on Sunday (29th September), and their hopes of maintaining a 100 per cent record in Kumagaya must now be sky-high.
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