Uruguay’s unexpected victory over Fiji at the Rugby World Cup in Japan has prompted unprecedented reactions back home in a country where football is the only recognized professional sport and the majority of its rugby players are regarded as non-professionals.
The South American minnows triumphed in what is considered as a historic win on Wednesday as they stunned Fiji 30-27 in Kamaishi, causing rugby to hit most of the news headlines in Uruguay.
Uruguay was the world champions in football in 1930 and 1950. The country is making the third Rugby World Cup win in four tournaments, after victories over Spain in 1999 and against Georgia in 2003.
Beating Fiji, who were ranked nine places ahead of them, represents a major feat for a country where less than 10,000 players in a population of just over three million — are registered as rugby players, many of whom are students at top private schools.
“The odds were 15 to 1 and they won,” a bus driver in Montevideo bellowed after learning of the result, which fell in the middle of the night in Uruguay.
On the radio and in the papers, sports commentators more accustomed to reporting on the national football team, were suddenly passionate and talking about the rugby competition.
“Historic. Los Teros shocked the world of rugby and beat Fiji,” read the headline of the digital version of El Pais.
“We are all involved in this story. Those who have followed Los Teros for a while and those who don’t know much about rugby but who, in front a ‘Celeste’ (light blue) shirt on the screen, don’t waver,” Ignacio Chans, author of a book on the national team, wrote in El Observador.
For Los Teros, a nickname derived from the national bird of Uruguay, the initial vision was to leave Japan with at least one win, but all of that have changed now, the aim is to register another victory against Georgia, a team in theory closer to their level.
If that happens, they will finish third in Pool C, behind frontrunners Wales and Australia, and qualify for the next edition in 2023.
“We are not the biggest, we are not the tallest but we came here to win,” said Uruguay captain Juan Gaminara, who broke down in tears at the end of the Fiji game.
“We had been preparing for the game for four years. We’re a team and we win as a team,” added Uruguay’s Argentine-born coach Esteban Meneses.