Meet Ja­pan’s hum­ble new em­per­ors

Uruguay’s part-timers cause stir in Ku­ma­gaya af­ter shock Fiji vic­tory, re­ports Kate Rowan

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Rugby -

Ku­ma­gaya is known as “Ja­pan’s rugby town” and the fleet of lo­cal taxi drivers are mainly men in their six­ties clad in Brave Blos­soms jer­seys to mark the World Cup. On the drive to one of Ja­pan’s most ex­clu­sive get­aways, the driver seems al­most boy­ish in his ex­cite­ment. “I saw the Em­peror at the Her­itage Re­sort once and now I want to see them!”

Upon ar­rival at the sprawl­ing com­plex, the driver jumps out and runs into re­cep­tion be­fore he can be paid. Then a group of burly young men in blue polo shirts pass by and the driver gives the deep­est of bows – the sort of bow re­served in Ja­panese eti­quette only for the most im­por­tant or high­est rank­ing.

This is how life changes when you have caused the big­gest stir of the World Cup so far, and Uruguay’s play­ers are mak­ing the most of it. The taxi driver, af­ter declar­ing: “You stay where the Em­peror stay, you win the rugby match,” sprints out of the door. The Her­itage Re­sort has long been a favourite of the Ja­panese Im­pe­rial fam­ily, and Mar­garet Thatcher stayed there in the 1980s while serv­ing as Prime Min­is­ter.

For Uruguay, de­spite their lowly world rank­ing and partly am­a­teur squad, it seems ap­pro­pri­ate that they have cho­sen these lofty sur­rounds af­ter their de­feat of Fiji.

Yet, the real­ity of their lives away from this bub­ble soon be­comes clear. Uruguay were the only am­a­teur side in the 2015 World Cup. Now there are only 15 play­ers on cen­tralised con­tracts, while the ma­jor­ity have day jobs, in­clud­ing cap­tain and flanker Juan Gam­i­nara, who is an ac­coun­tant. He chuck­les: “I am glad we won be­cause it means I am on tele­vi­sion and my col­leagues re­mem­ber what I look like.”

Pro­fes­sional sta­tus has not brought riches. “It is not like we are mak­ing one mil­lion dol­lars,” Gam­i­nara says, “but it means we can train reg­u­larly as pro­fes­sion­als with the guys on con­tracts. A lot of our squad bal­ance in­ter­na­tional rugby with jobs.”

One such player is prop Diego Ar­belo, named on the bench for to­mor­row’s crunch tie with Ge­or­gia who, when he is not on the rugby field, is driv­ing an Uber in Mon­te­v­ideo. Scrum-half San­ti­ago Arata is proud to an­nounce that he is a trainee phys­io­ther­a­pist, be­fore Gam­i­nara chips in with: “You aren’t the best stu­dent.”

It is easy to sense the giddy ex­cite­ment of a group of play­ers who had come into the tour­na­ment with so lit­tle ex­pec­ta­tion. All beam at the men­tion of in­creased me­dia at­ten­tion back home and seem some­what star-struck by how Uruguay’s most fa­mous sport­ing son, Barcelona star Luis Suarez, had tweeted his con­grat­u­la­tions. Rather than look down on foot­ball, the bulk of the rugby team are avid fans who en­joy a kick­about.

With only 4,000 reg­is­tered rugby play­ers in a pop­u­la­tion of just over 3.4 mil­lion, this is seen as rugby’s golden chance to make waves be­yond the tra­di­tional rugby heart­lands of Mon­te­v­ideo, Punta del Este and Paysandu, con­tin­u­ing to break down its im­age as a pri­vate school sport.

As be­fits their el­e­vated sta­tus, Gam­i­nara and his men oc­ca­sion­ally lapse into me­dia-trained mode – “We re­ally made an im­pact with the win but we now must step away from that and try and fo­cus on a win against Ge­or­gia” – but such is the way of Los Teros (named af­ter the na­tional bird, the south­ern lap­wing) that it does not take long for the laugh­ter to re­turn and it is the topic of fam­ily which unites this band of broth­ers.

Much had been made in the af­ter­math of the mir­a­cle of Ka­maishi of the im­pact of the Or­maecheas, known as the first fam­ily of Uruguayan rugby.

Diego Or­maechea, who will be­come the first Uruguayan to be in­ducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame later this year, scored his coun­try’s first World Cup try in a vic­tory over Spain in 1999 and coached Uruguay to a win over Ge­or­gia in 2003. His sons Juan Diego and Agustin are re­place­ments to­mor­row.

While Gam­i­nara cred­its the Or­maecheas’ con­tri­bu­tion to Uruguayan rugby, he points out that his own fa­ther played for Los Teros Un­der-20s, while cen­tre Juan Manuel Cat butts in: “My fa­ther got three se­nior caps.” Gam­i­nara con­cludes: “Rugby is passed down fa­ther to son in Uruguay and I can’t get my dad to shut up about it, es­pe­cially now.”

There will be plenty more will­ing to hold forth on Uruguay if they can fol­low up their Fiji tri­umph by de­feat­ing Ge­or­gia to­mor­row.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.