For a lot of people, the most important thing in a Rugby World Cup is winning, and the love for the sport can often go out the window. However, for a lot of the Tier Two nations, their enjoyment and passion for the sport is infectious, and shines through no matter the score.
Tier One nations in rugby consist of the teams who play in the Six Nations – England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales – and those who compete in the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship – Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Tier Two nations are any which do not fall into these two categories. The stereotype is often that Tier Two nations are simply trying to avoid cricket-like scores when playing a Tier One nation, and that they have no real chance of winning. This year’s Rugby World Cup is proving this to no longer be the case.
After narrowly losing to Wales in their opening game of the tournament, Fiji went on to beat Australia for the first time since 1954, just weeks after their historic win against England at Twickenham. Not only was this victory very important for their Word Cup Challenge, but the reactions throughout the country show the passion for the sport in the island nation. One fan, Nacanieli Tuilevuka told the Guardian that people were “beating drums and big pots to celebrate Fiji’s win, drivers were tooting their horns, and many didn’t go to school or work”. The game was played at 3:45am local time, but this wasn’t stopping many people who tuned in to watch. In fact, when speaking about the previous match against Wales, the Fijian prop Mesake Doge said that many people “in the villages they will be taking their television sets up onto the hills to get reception to watch the game.”
Fiji isn’t the only team causing a stir, and Portugal gained the hearts of many with their performance against Wales. Their free style of play quickly won over the neutral fans as well as their own, and the stadium in Nice quickly became filled with chants of, “Por-tu-gal”. Most within the rugby world saw the video which went viral of Portugal qualifying for the World Cup, and if you say it didn’t bring a tear to your eye then you are probably lying. The pride and passion within the team was clear as Samuel Marquez kicked for goal and qualified Portugal for the World Cup, for the first time in 16 years. Most of the team are amateur or semi-professional, including the captain Tomás Appleton who has a successful career as a dentist, running his own clinic in Lisbon. He has made it clear he wants to use this World Cup to grow the sport in Portugal, an opportunity which he says they missed in 2007 during their last appearance. Os Lobos have certainly already gained support, with some saying their try from a lineout against Wales was the best of the weekend.
Similar to Portugal causing problems for Wales, 17th ranked Uruguay made things very difficult for the home nation France. Uruguay fly-half Etcheverry’s beautiful cross-field kick was picked up by Nicolas Freitas who took off down the left wing for an early opening try, putting Los Teros ahead. France soon went ahead but were held to a final score of 27-12 and didn’t manage a winning bonus point. The passion on captain Andrés Vilaseca’s face was clear as he told reporters after the match “I’m so proud of my team […] this is only the beginning for us.”
The main similarity between these teams, other than their quick style of play, is their passion for the sport. For all of them, you can see how much being at this World Cup means and how they want to share their love for rugby with people back in their home nations.
At a time when many are criticising their teams and the sport, with controversial refereeing decisions and teams not meeting fans’ standards, it is so refreshing to see people with a real passion for rugby, and who love every second of the game.
Image: Ken FUNAKOSHI via Flickr