This was the day at RWC 2019 that was about far more than rugby, but Fiji and Uruguay played their part by delivering a thrilling clash in Pool D, which ended in a shock win for the South Americans.
Kamaishi’s smart new Recovery Memorial Stadium looked a picture, testament to the prodigious efforts to rebuild after the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami that hit the Iwate area on 11 March, 2011. Even the weather obliged, a temperature of 22C offering both sides every incentive to run with the ball.
Uruguay needed no second invitation, racing to a 24-12 half-time lead by scoring three tries to two, even though they went behind early on when a neat lineout move ended with hooker Mesulame Dolokoto scoring his first test try for Fiji in the corner.
Six minutes later and Los Teros were in front, scrum-half Santiago Arata, above, wriggling free of two challenges as he jinked and finally tumbled over the line under the posts. Felipe Berchesi converted for 7-5.
Fiji re-took the lead when prop Eroni Mawi dived over the top of a ruck to touch down. This time Josh Matavesi converted but the advantage was short-lived: Uruguay made the most of some clean lineout ball and number eight Manuel Diana forced his way over.
Felipe Berchesi’s conversion made it 14-12 to the South Americans, but their best was yet to come. Berchesi found centre Juan Manuel Cat in midfield and he played a neat one-two with winger Rodrigo Silva before running in unchallenged. Berchesi added the extras and then kicked a penalty for good measure before half-time.
Four years ago, in Milton Keynes, Fiji beat Los Teros 47-15 in the pool stage, but any chance of a repeat relied on a quick change of fortune at the start of the second half. A penalty for an early tackle gave Matavesi a very presentable chance from just to the right of the post, but he sliced wide. Two minutes later he had another kick, when not even three Uruguay tacklers could stop giant lock Api Ratuniyarawa barging over, but this time Matavesi hooked to the right, leaving them seven points adrift.
Los Teros were hurling themselves into tackles but it was shaping up to be a very long 25 minutes to keep the Fijian backs at bay. Instead, 13 phases of attacking play culminated in a penalty which Berchesi slotted over to take the scores to 27-17.
This matched Uruguay’s record points total in a RWC match, but would it be enough? It began to look less likely when replacement scrum-half Nikola Matawalu touched down for Fiji, but Ben Volavola was no more successful with his conversion attempt than Matavesi had been.
How Fiji must long for a kicker like Berchesi, the player of the match. He showed how to do it, extending the lead to eight points with five minutes left with his third penalty for a personal haul of 15 points.
Matawalu did score another try, so Fiji earned two bonus points, but it was in added time and Volavola’s conversion hit the upright, which rather summed up their match.