The defeats of Uruguay and Tonga had almost a bitter taste, against the XV of France and Ireland. Both nations expressed frustration at not playing enough against Tier 1 teams, outside of the World Cup period.
On the one hand, a defeat of sixty points, clean and flawless. On the other, a heroic performance which deserved much better than a zero-point loss. But for both camps, Tongan and Uruguayan, the same bitter taste: that of not having had more weapons to compete against Ireland et the XV of France. Following the slap received by Ben Tameifuna’s teammates this Saturday, Tonga expressed its frustration at not playing enough against the “Tier 1” nations (the participants in the 6 Nations Tournament and the Rugby Championship).
“Ireland are a really complete team and too strong for us. It’s clear that by playing more often against teams of this level, that would change. It’s not an excuse, but it’s true that “We should play against more top teams. In these matches, we cannot afford to give away points easily like that. Few players are used to this level.” said coach Toutai Kefu, quickly joined by his captain Ben Tameifuna.
Two years without playing a Tier 1 team
“I agree 110%. If we were exposed to rugby of this level more often… I think our last match against a major rugby country was in 2021, it was against England. That goes back a bit. There, we were able to compete against a Tier 1 nation.” On the other side of the globe, Uruguay may also harbor similar regrets. Since the 2019 World Cup, where they notably faced Australia and Wales, the Teros have only played one match against a “great nation” (Italy, in 2021).
Captain Andres Vilaseca also railed against this trend. “To face France on equal terms, in front of its home crowd, during a World Cup, it testifies to the confidence that drives this team and the quality of our players. This team has unlimited potential. We came here to write history and today we took the first step in this direction. In four years, Uruguay has only met one tier 1 team. Today was the second time. 10 minutes from the end, we were still very close to the score. We must say things clearly: we are ready to fight on equal terms with anyone.”
In Group A, the coach of Namibia also stepped up to the plate. Punished by New Zealand (71-3), Allister Coetzee’s men. “Namibia last played against a top team like the All Blacks probably in the last World Cup 2019 and that is the difference. The national team does not have the privilege of playing the Rugby Championship or other high-level competitions, but she qualified for this World Cup. So I hope that in the future we will have more opportunities to play these kinds of matches.”
The world league project should dampen hopes
But despite this legitimate and fierce desire to stand alongside the great rugby nations, Uruguay and Tonga will have to wait for many more years. Last July, the organization of the 6 Nations Tournament and the Sanzaar (Super Rugby and Rugby Championship) endorsed the world league project, replacing the traditional November tours. A competition bringing together the six teams of the Tournament and the four major southern nations (Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina) will see the light of day from 2026.
If this plan plans to invite two southern nations, it seems that Fiji and Japan have a head start on the Teros and the Ikale Tahi. In the north, Georgia is knocking on the door, just like Portugal, author of a heroic performance against Wales. But the path is more endless than ever for the little ones.