Uruguay successfully defended the World Rugby Nations Cup title on home soil after beating runners-up Argentina XV 26-20 in the sixth and final game of the tournament at Parque Artigas in Las Piedras, to the north of Montevideo. Emerging Italy came third after an equally tense game against the Fiji Warriors which saw the Europeans prevail 29-27.
With a squad similar to the one that lifted the trophy last year, the Uruguayans owed their success to a combative pack of forwards and backs that can be both strong and subtle in equal measure.
In edging their River Plate rivals, Uruguay gained revenge for their hugely disappointing 64-15 loss – albeit with their ‘A’ side – to the same opponents less than six months ago in the Americas Rugby Championship.
Argentina XV 20-26 Uruguay
Uruguay showed great spirit and resolve to come from behind and clinch the World Rugby Nations Cup title for a second consecutive year.
The first half of a game that always promised to be tight and emotional ended with Argentina XV leading 10-6, thanks to a penalty try against the Uruguayan scrum, immediately after prop Juan Echeverría was sent to the sin-bin. Beforehand, Felipe Berchesi had kicked two penalties and Joaquín Díaz Bonilla one for the Argentina XV in a half where defences dominated.
Argentina XV extended their advantage five minutes after the restart when prop Lucas Fabre barged over after a good break from Puma Tomás Cubelli.
For the second time in the match, Uruguay found themselves down to 14 men – this time it was flanker Leandro Segredo who was yellow-carded – but they rallied magnificently and Berchesi slotted his third penalty shortly after in-form centre Andrés Vilaseca had a try disallowed.
Then it was the Argentina XV’s turn to incur the wrath of the referee, playmaker Díaz Bonilla and hooker Gaspar Baldunciel both visiting the sin-bin in quick succession. For eight minutes, Felipe Contepomi’s side had to play with 13 men and, making good use of the extra space, Los Teros winger Leandro Leivas finished off a good move in the right-hand corner to get the hosts right back in the game.
A moment of magic from Berchesi, later voted as Player of the Tournament, then put Uruguay in front. The fly-half, who kicked beautifully out of hand and off the floor all match, put a cross-field kick on a plate for replacement flanker Manuel Diana who strolled over in the corner. Berchesi added the conversion.
Cut-and-thrust rugby followed in the final 10 minutes of play with both teams looking for the score that would seal victory, however the only additional points came from the boots of Díaz Bonilla and Berchesi with a penalty apiece.
“We knew it would be a tough game, mostly towards the end and that the bench would be the key,” said Los Teros vice-captain Alejandro Nieto.
“We are all very fit and that was the key. We love playing in Uruguay and to win is very good.”
The final round victory over the Argentina XV completed a clean sweep of wins for Los Teros at the Nations Cup, following earlier wins over Fiji Warriors and Emerging Italy, and continued the upward trajectory of the side leading into Rugby World Cup 2019.
“We know we are at a crucial stage of our preparation towards Rugby World Cup and these wins, which we work hard for, are very positive,” acknowledged Nieto.
Emerging Italy 29-27 Fiji Warriors
Emerging Italy took advantage of Fiji Warriors’ indiscipline to come from behind and claim third place.
The Pacific Islanders led 20-10 at the break but the combined effect of two red cards and two yellows was too much for them to overcome in the end.
Kavekini Varo kicked the Warriors into an early 3-0 lead but the Italians struck back with a converted try for centre Marco Zanon. A mistake in defence handed the initiative back to the Fijians though, with winger Atunaisa Tuivuaka the one to benefit. Varo added the extras.
The momentum of the match shifted once again, in the 32nd minute, when flanker Filimoni Seru received a red card for a dangerous tackle. Shortly after, Massimo Cioffi kicked a penalty to level the scores at 10-10 but the 14-man Warriors finished the half strongly with a converted try from Eroni Narumasa and Varo’s second penalty deep into stoppage time.
Five minutes into the second half, following another dangerous tackle, Uruguayan referee Francisco González went to his pocket again to show a red card to full-back Enele Malele. Six minutes later the situation grew even worse for the Warriors who found themselves down to 12 men when Samu Saqiwa was sent to the sin-bin for a late tackle on Zanon.
This time the Italians made their numerical advantage count, scoring twice in eight minutes through a penalty try and a try for Davide Fragnito. Cioffi then converted his own try to give his side some breathing space, which they needed as it turned out because the Warriors struck again late on, Tuivuaka grabbing his second before he became the next player to be carded.
“It was a very tough meeting from a physical point of view. Fiji proved to be a good team even when they were outnumbered. Despite some mistakes, we managed to overturn the deficit in the second half and bring home the victory, “said relieved second-row Ugo D’Onofrio.