Wales had never won four pool matches in a World Cup so this was a golden opportunity to do just that. The team was to be captained by Justin Tipuric, giving Alun Wyn Jones a breather. They knew Uruguay could pose dangers, as Fiji had found to their cost.
Before this match Welsh coach Warren Gatland had compared Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric to “a good wine and getting better with age.” He might be, say, a fine burgundy such as a Gevrey-Chambertin. If so then Rhys Patchell, starting in the number ten shirt in place of the injured Dan Biggar was hoping to be a nearby appelation Mercurey perhaps, and put in a mercurial performance. With sixteen national caps to his name he needed a big running game, complemented by impeccable kicking skills which haven’t let him down this far in the competition. Yet this was not to be a vintage night of Welsh rugby flair, far from it.
If this was a game to both decide if Wales topped Pool D and a chance for members of the squad to put their hands up for the looming quarter final in truth there were no new contenders.
Wales showed positivity right from the off though some fumbles denied both Hallam Amos and Bradley Davies runs at the line while Wainwright added a third handling error just as he slid over the try line. But there was ambition aplenty with long, looping passes very much in evidence.
A quintet of penalties against the south Americans inside the 22 piled on the pressure but yet the Uruguayan defence held up firm. Grinding Welsh forward play finally resulted in a muscling try for loosehead prop Nicky Smith, with the ever-dependable full back Leigh Halfpenny, minus his trademark skullcap adding the conversion.
Berchese put Uruguay’s first three points on the board via a penalty, a reward for solid south American stubborness in defence as well as a nerve settler.
There was soon a burst of Welsh running flair, with deft handling by Hadleigh Parkes helping put Hallam Amos over the whitewash, a try disallowed because of a forward pass. More dislocated play by Wales piled up the frustration, with a tally of half a dozen handling errors and Uruguay turning over the ball just as Wales built up some momentum. Another Uruguayan penalty off the boot of Berchesi reduced the margin to a single point. It had not been a vintage first half, with all credit to the redoubtable defence of the boys in sky blue.
Warren Gatland’s prediction that this would be a proper test had been fully realised and one imagines he delivered a pretty lacerating half-time team sermon.
A penalty kick by Halfpenny glanced off the post and a Uruguay managed to stem the flow of the Welsh yet again. A long pass from Patchell found winger Josh Adams ready to bring a try and some welcome relief for his side. Halfpenny then comfortably slotted the two points bringing the scoreline to 14-6.
A high octane burst for the line by Josh Adams lifted the tempo but the ball was then stripped from Tipuric, which is an event rare as dodo’s eggs and there was even a slow handclap in the stands. A Hallam Amos try was disallowed for a second time during the game following a forward pass. It was turning into a dispirited performance, with Welsh handling errors now into double figures in a humid stadium.
James Davies and Ross Moriarty came on just in time to see Wales fumble another ball as part of the fumble-fest. Fortuitously, a penalty try followed hard on the heels of a Uruguay yellow card, adding seven points to the Welsh tally. 21-6
Uruguay’s hooker German Kessler then found a clear yard and powered over the line, claiming a much deserved try in the 70th minute, with fly half Berchesi converting. 21-13.
This was countered when a classic sniping run by the Blues’ scrum half Tomos Williams was rewarded with his second try in this World Cup. From 36 metres out Leigh Halfpenny added a duo of points.
A seemingly jinxed Hallam Amos dropped the ball as he crossed the try line: not his night. Carre spilled another pass, adding woes to collective handling misery.
Curiously some of the best free-flowing rugby from both sides came in extra time, with Gareth Davies showing Formula 1 acceleration to score a try in the 83rd minute, Halfpenny bringing the score to 35-13.
Following the best Uruguayan performance against a Tier 1 team, and despite the losing scoreline this was, in a sense, their night. They could hold their heads up high, south American pride fully intact at the end of a terse, tetchy and testing game of rugby.
The boys in sky blue could now deservedly drink a celebratory rivulet of Tannat wine, made from a typical local grape, having put in no fewer than 200 tackles.
Wales, another bonus point under their belt, now progress to Oita to take on France in the final eight, buoyed up by a good string of victories against the French, but with a few questions to answer after a scrappy and ultimately dislocated performance.