Uruguay captain Juan Manuel Gaminara choked back tears at the final whistle after his side overcame hot favourites Fiji, and recorded their first World Cup win since 2003.
Los Teros pulled off a stunning 30-27 victory over the Pacific Islanders, whose qualification hopes now lie in tatters.
Fiji, having made 12 changes from the side that lost to Australia five days ago, were swiftly punished by the explosive South Americans for a succession of sloppy handling errors.
Uruguay scored more tries in the first half of the match than they managed in the entirety of the last World Cup, and were able to hold out for a famous win.
The result meant more to Juan Manuel Gaminara than most. As the veteran captain of the Uruguay side, the 30-year-old flanker took it upon himself to pay tribute to the spirit of his teammates.
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Fighting back tears, he said: “I am really proud of my country. We aren’t the biggest or the tallest, but we came here to win. We have been preparing this for four years, so I am really proud.
“We have been working since we qualified. We never had anything granted [to us]. We had to qualify first and then come to the world cup. And since we qualified, we’ve been thinking about this game.
“You saw the passion. I am really proud. I don’t know where [the courage] comes from, it’s inside us, and today we had to fetch it, and it came.”
The match was held in Kamaishi, a famous rugby town in Japan, which was hosting its first World Cup tie after a devastating tsunami ripped through the coastal community in 2011, taking 1,300 lives.
Gaminara went on to pay tribute to the many fans who filled the newly built Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium.
“[The fans] were loud. We were loud on the pitch. Thanks to all the people that are here, and all the ones that woke up early to see the match and believed in us.
“I don’t want this to end. It’s a privilege to play here.”
Both sides now face Georgia in their next game, against whom Uruguay will attempt to propel themselves towards qualification, while Fiji will scrap to save their tournament.
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