Move over Luis Suarez, Uruguay has new heroes to celebrate following Rugby World Cup 2019 upset of Fiji
Names such as Juan Manuel Gaminara, Felipe Berchesi and Juan Manuel Cat might not have been known by many within their own country before this week
Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Godin, have a sit down. Uruguay, the small, football-mad country in South America, has new heroes to celebrate.
Names such as Juan Manuel Gaminara, Felipe Berchesi and Juan Manuel Cat might not have been known by many within their own country before this week.
Now, they have written themselves into rugby lore after helping Uruguay to one of the biggest upsets in Rugby World Cup history, as they beat Fiji 30-27.
Had a few questionable officiating decisions gone their way then, we might have been celebrating them as the real giant-killers of this week.
And then, this. Beaten by a country with barely 6,000 registered rugby players. A tiny union that - outside of World Cups – is seldom afforded matches against rugby’s leading teams, and who only started awarding professional contracts as a consequence of making it to the last World Cup.
Gaminara, their captain, personifies the challenge that faced them. The 30-year-old flanker from Old Boys, the champion club side of Montevideo, is 1.75m tall.
He was giving away 21cms in height, as well as years’ worth of experience in the professional game to his opposite number, Dominiko Waqaniburotu, the Fiji captain and flanker who has spent the past seven years playing in France’s Top 14.
And yet Gaminara’s industry and craft epitomised the Uruguayan effort. When it came to his post-match TV interview, it was little wonder he was in tears.
“I am really proud of my country,” Gaminara said. “We are not the biggest, we are not the tallest, but we came here to win.
“We have been preparing for this for four years. I am really proud of my country.
“We have been working for this since we qualified. We never had anything granted.
"We had to qualify first, then come to the World Cup, and since we qualified, we have been thinking about this game.
“You saw the passion. I am really proud.”
Usually, underdog stories are universally celebrated. While few would begrudge Uruguay this moment, it will be tinged with sorrow for many.
Fiji are, after all, most people’s favourite second side. They are more normally the poster-boys for the underdog cause.
Quoting mismatches like the one between Gaminara and Waqaniburotu is usually an easy trope to set up the mismatch facing Fiji, rather than the other way round.
As Andrew Mehrtens put it on commentary, the Flying Fijians are “the darlings of the rugby field, almost always – but they have been usurped”.
“Everything went wrong, it was not the result we wanted,” Waqaniburotu said in his TV interview.
“We underestimated a very good Uruguay team. Congratulations to them.”
Uruguay had only 41 per cent of both territory and possession, but they were good value for their win.
Their defence was courageous, and forced many of the mistakes the Fijians made, while they used the possession they did have with a savvy that belied their lack of experience.
Berchesi, their fly-half, was named player of the match for a nerveless display with the boot that brought him 15 points.
“I think we showed we are a really proud nation,” Berchesi said. “We worked together as a team.
“I think they [Fiji] had really good individuality, but we played together as a team, and I am really proud of the boys.
“I was telling myself [when lining up the kick that eventually decided the game] to treat it like it was training, like the stadium was empty.
“I had cramp in my legs. I was just thinking of training: look to the posts, look through the middle, and it went through, luckily.”
Updated: September 25, 2019 12:50 PM