KAMAISHI, Japan (Reuters) - Fiji head into their second match of the Rugby World Cup against minnows Uruguay on Wednesday still reeling from their agonising loss to Australia in Sapporo.
Fiji had looked on course for one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history on Saturday as they held a nine-point second half lead against Australia before the Wallabies tightened up to win 39-21.
The result could have been different, however, had winger Reece Hodge, who went on to score a try, been red-carded for a no-arms tackle on Fiji’s influential flanker Peceli Yato.
Yato missed the rest of the match with concussion and Hodge has since been cited by World Rugby over the tackle.
Uruguay, ranked 19th in the world and playing in their first match of the tournament, could be just the tonic for Fiji coach John McKee and his players.
Playing just four days after the bruising affair with Australia, only three players keep their place in the Fijian side, including the outstanding Leone Nakarawa who moves into the back row from lock.
Fiji routed Uruguay 68-7 last year and won 47-15 when the two sides met at England 2015.
Despite this, McKee is wary of Uruguay’s threat with Los Teros having extra time to prepare for Wednesday’s meeting.
“We are on a four-match series to qualify for the play-offs, so the Uruguay game is a very important part of that quest,” the New Zealander said on Monday.
“We did play Uruguay last November in the UK and we know that they are a much-improved side from the team that we played then.”
“They have been together for a while now and their World Cup preparations will have been focused on this match.
“We are coming off a short turnaround and it’s their first game, so they will have been targeting us. For our players, it has been important to focus on this game.”
Uruguay, playing in their fourth World Cup, come into the tournament having not played a competitive match since June, when they lost to both Namibia and Spain in Montevideo.
Wednesday’s match is being held in the small north-eastern town of Kamaishi, which was devastated by the 2011 tsunami.
Ahead of Wednesday’s match at the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, there will be a minute’s silence to remember victims of the disaster.
“After the tsunami that devastated the area, you understand that rugby is more than just a game,” said McKee.
“We know that it is very important for the people of this area and for the team to pay our respects to the people of this region.”
Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty