Fiji bowed out of the Rugby World Cup by overpowering a feisty Uruguay 47-15 in an action-packed Rugby World Cup match on Wednesday (NZT).
The Uruguayans contributed to the entertainment with a gutsy display that not only earned them their first try in the tournament, but a second to boot.
For two winless teams out of the running for the knockout stage in difficult Pool A, there was no letup in desire, as both got what they wanted: Fiji finished on a high note with seven tries after invigorating defeats to England, Australia, and Wales, while Uruguay were outgunned but not outclassed.
“It was massively important to finish with a win,” Fiji coach John McKee said. “We came with high ambitions and thought we could roll over two of the big teams. It’s some consolation.”
The shorter and smaller Uruguayans were even willing to niggle the Fijians in the second half. It earned outstanding scrumhalf Agustin Ormaechea a second yellow card and thus a red card, the first in the tournament. Even with a man down for the last 14 minutes in light rain, Uruguay conceded only one more try, in injury time to winger Nemani Nadolo, who finally found only one defender in his path instead of the usual three.
His fate was typical of Fiji’s performance. Fiji got over the line but they were made to sweat for most of their metres. Nadolo finished with 17 points, including six conversions, but one of the predicted stars of the tournament was held in check for the most part.
Fiji showed off their high confidence by opting for attacking lineouts rather penalty shots and, in the third minute, lock Leone Nakarawa offloaded to center Levani Botia, who was chopped at the knees by Ormaechea and dropped the ball on the tryline. Referee JP Doyle yellow-carded Ormaechea for the illegal no-hands tackle, and gave Fiji a penalty try.
Uruguay didn’t react well, giving away a string of penalties which Fiji used on set-pieces. Fiji’s scrum was overwhelming, and scrumhalf Nemia Kenatale scored from a break down the blindside to make it 12-0.
When Uruguay were back to 15 men, it kicked over a long-range penalty. Up to that point all of Uruguay’s points in the tournament – 15 – were from penalties. They were still without a try, the only team in the tournament which hadn’t crossed the white line.
The Teros had to wait only two minutes more. Ormaechea and captain Santiago Vilaseca pierced Fiji on the blindside, first-five Alejo Duran made a half break, and hooker Carlos Arboleya steamed up on the inside to angle in near the left post. Uruguay’s first World Cup try-scorer in 12 years was mobbed by teammates plus the reserves, as the crowd stood and cheered.
It meant a lot to Arboleya. He made his debut at 19 in 2004, and was the captain in 2011 before an eye injury kept him out of the Teros for three years.
The try transformed them. They stole a Fiji throw-in on halfway, took a quick lineout in their own half and ran it back into Fiji’s, and stole the ball from the back of Fiji’s scrum. Even after Nadolo was stopped, and a Fiji pushover attempt was collapsed to concede a second penalty try, the Uruguayans remained staunch.
But Fiji were not easily caged, and Nadolo broke out from halfway with support from Nakarawa, whose converted try earned a fair halftime lead of 26-10.
The rugby-record crowd of 30,048 in Stadium MK clapped both sides off, and when they returned.
Finding themselves constantly mowed down, a loose pass by the Fijians was toed on by Uruguay wing Rodrigo Silva, and Ormaechea ended up scoring the try to match his father Diego, who scored against Spain at the 1999 World Cup.
Fiji were disrupted until the fourth quarter, when they ground out a try for replacement lock Tevita Cavubati, who didn’t like how Silva tried to take the ball off him. The feistiness wasn’t finished when Botia ran the kickoff restart down the left sideline, and fullback Kini Murimurivalu finished off for a second try in two minutes. A fracas after that ended Doyle’s patience, and he sent off Ormaechea, and gave Fiji prop Campese Ma’afu his second yellow card of the tournament.
Fiji had the last say with Nadolo’s try, and spent Uruguayans lay on the grass in his wake, but even while they were down, they were never out.