KUMAGAYA, Japan (Reuters) – While the rest of the rugby world was in shock at Uruguay’s surprise victory over Fiji earlier this week, Milton Haig was not at all surprised as he prepared his Georgia side for their Pool D clash in Kumagaya on Sunday.
The South Americans produced the first upset of the tournament with a 30-27 win over the Pacific islanders and gave themselves an opportunity against Georgia to secure two victories at the World Cup for the second successive tournament.
The two sides have clashed five times previously with the Europeans winning the last three, although Haig said the last game in Tbilisi in 2015 had been tight and the South Americans had taken massive steps forward since then.
“If you’ve watched Uruguay progress in the past 12 months, and more so in the past three months, they’ve made huge improvements in everything that they do,” Haig said.
“I knew they would come into this tournament ready to create an upset, and because of our experience with Uruguay before in Tbilisi, they are a real courageous side, they are fighters, and you take them lightly at your peril.
“It didn’t surprise us at all.”
Haig’s side lost their first match against Wales and with Australia also in the pool, Georgia, Uruguay and Fiji are likely battling for third spot and automatic qualification for the next tournament in France in 2023.
The New Zealander said he had made 12 changes to the side that lost to Wales on Monday because of the short turnaround and to give all of the squad a chance to contest for places for their final two games.
“We were committed as a coaching group to giving everyone a chance, and from now on it will be best players on the field,” he said.
“So that puts pressure and competition on everybody, and at tournaments like this you need people pushing to make sure that they get selected.
“We are at a tipping point in our tournament, obviously the Uruguay match… becomes a must-win for us, so we’re under no illusions about where we are at and what needs to be done.”
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ken Ferris)