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Did The Flying Fijians Underestimate Uruguay?

With world-class coaches, top-notch training equipment, including a full-time video analyst, and $2.5 million in taxpayer funding from the Fiji National Sports Commission, expectations were sky-high.
27 Sep 2019 15:10
Did The Flying Fijians Underestimate Uruguay?
Fiji Airways Flying Fijians centre Semi Radradra.

Outrage and despair has followed the Fiji Airways Flying Fijians’ 27-30 loss to Uruguay on Wednesday, in a result that shocked the rugby world.

The South Americans were ranked 19th in the world when the two teams met for the Pool D encounter in Kamaishi, compared to Fiji’s 9th position. But Los Teros played like a team determined to prove a point as they held off a late Fijian fightback to achieve their greatest result in history.

For Fiji, it was a defeat that all but ended their hopes of reaching the Cup quarterfinals.

The alarm bells were already ringing by halftime, with Uruguay leading 24-12. But a lacklustre Fiji never really got out of second gear until the final 10 minutes, by which time it was too late. The Fijians failed to capitalise on their superior possession and territory stats (59%), which suggested a lack of ideas going forward.

Nikola Matawalu late surge proved futile, as Uruguay earned a first World Cup win since 2003.

The loss saw Fiji slide three places to 12th in the world rankings, one behind their next opponent Georgia.

The players, and head coach John McKee, in particular, came in for scathing criticism following the result.

This was billed as the best-prepared Fijian team in World Cup history.

With world-class coaches, top-notch training equipment, including a full-time video analyst, and $2.5 million in taxpayer funding from the Fiji National Sports Commission, expectations were sky-high.

But the Dominiko Waqaniburotu-captained side played well below expectations and what they are capable of. A combination of 19 handling errors, lapses in defence, inaccurate kicking and an attack lacking composure condemned them to a de-moralising defeat.

Upsets are part and parcel of rugby, and Uruguay’s record shows that they were never going to be a pushover.

McKee took a gamble when he made 12 changes to the squad that gave Australia a scare four days ago in Sapporo, and it didn’t pay off.

The wholesale changes have led to suggestions that the coach underestimated Uruguay by fielding a largely second-string team.

McKee denied this in a post-match press conference, saying: “That was something we looked at and we tried to take the same mindset into the game as we took into the Australia game.

“This is the sport that we play and you cannot predict the outcome, and great credit goes to Uruguay for how they worked in the game and for each other and to get what is quite a historic result.”

Mathematically, progression is still not out of the question.

The Fijians need maximum points in their next two games, and then hope Australia can do them a favour by beating Wales this Sunday.

Those chances become even slimmer if Wales manage to topple Australia, given that it is highly unlikely the Wallabies will lose to either Georgia or Uruguay.

The odds simply underline how critical a win against Uruguay was to Fiji’s prospects.

The team next travel more than 1000 kilometres to Higashiosaka for their October 3 encounter against Georgia at the Hanazono Rugby Stadium.

Anything less than a bonus-point win will officially end all remaining hopes of Fiji reaching the knockout stages.

Edited by Leone Cabenatabua

Feedbacksheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

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