Uruguayan dreams dashed by Italian comeback

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Rugby Union – Rugby World Cup 2023 – Pool A – Italy v Uruguay – Allianz Riviera, Nice, France – September 20, 2023 Uruguay’s Manuel Leindekar with fans after the match REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

NICE, France (Reuters) – Uruguay said they had “dreamed big” about their World Cup clash with Italy and for 40 minutes on Wednesday it looked as if they might come true, only for a 17-7 lead to flip into a 38-17 defeat as their fitness and lack of experience told heavily.

Of all the minnows in the tournament, Uruguay have probably had the hardest time preparing. Before last week’s 27-12 defeat by France, they had faced Tier One opposition only once since the 2019 World Cup and played only four internationals of any sort this year.

They won admirers with a battling defeat against the hosts last week but had half a chance of pulling off one of the great World Cup upsets in Nice. A penalty try, another for Nicolas Freitas and a wobbly drop goal by Felipe Etcheverry, as Italy had two men in the sin-bin, had them 17-7 up at the break.

It all went quickly wrong though after their own sin-binning of influential captain Andres Vilaseca and in 15 minutes they shipped four tries as Italy took the bonus-point victory after a totally one-sided 40-minutes.

“It’s quite frustrating to be honest,” said flanker Santiago Civetta. “We dreamed really big about this match and big dreams sometimes come true, sometimes they don’t.

“It was a really epic battle, we gave the best we could. We made more mistakes than we wanted and Italy knew how to exploit them. But we gave our best effort and we need to keep working for our two remaining matches.”

Coach Esteban Meneses said he was immensely proud of his players, who were out on their feet in the final stages.

“We came here to make history but Italy played very well in the second half and congratulations to them,” he said.

“Our targets were Italy and Namibia, so now it’s Namibia.”

The two Pool A outsiders meet in Lyon next Wednesday, before Uruguay sign off against New Zealand. Italy, who top the pool with 10 points, have the All Blacks and France to come, when it will be their turn to “dream big”.

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Toby Davis)