For the first time in 12 years, the Rugby World Cup will have a new name at the finals stage, with Chile securing their place in France after a pulsating double-header win against the USA last summer.
It has been quite the journey for Los Cóndores, who are one of South America’s fastest-developing rugby sides, with them pouring a great deal of money and support into their rugby team and intensifying their efforts around growing the game around the nation. It has been very positively received by the Chilean population, and the celebrations around the country when they did qualify for the finals showed just how much it means to them to see their players go toe-to-tie with some of the biggest names in the sport.
Front and centre of Chile’s development has been head coach Pable Lemoine, who took the reins in 2018 after spells with Uruguay (who he led to the 2015 tournament in England) and Germany.
Since his return to the continent, the Uruguayan has been responsible for implementing a series of reforms to the way that Chile play and the support that they enjoy, with on-field changes seeing them adopt an exciting brand of rugby that excites fans whilst off-pitch developments have included the opening of a new High Performance facility in the foothills of the Andes, with promises to keep improving it as required.
As a coach, Lemoine’s key aims have always been to ensure that his team plays with heart and soul every time that they step out onto the field and believes in what they are doing, and Uruguayan players who have played under him in the past have spoken highly of what he did with them during his tenure as their head coach.
All in all, Chilean rugby is in a very good place at this moment in time, and it will be interesting to see how they get on when locking horns with Argentina, England, Japan and Samoa when the pool games get underway.
In attack, Chile’s focus has predominantly been on playing with a front-footed mentality, with the aim of exploiting gaps in opposing lines before they have been closed off. In both matches against the USA, this was one of the main reasons that they caused the Eagles so many issues, with them gathering kicked clearances and instantly looking to run forward with the ball, and that tendency to not pass but for players to take matters into their own hands could catch a few teams out.
However, if the teams have properly done their homework, then they will know that this is something that Lemoine has been especially keen on introducing as a tactic, with him knowing from personal experience that any team wanting to do well at the World Cup needs to take the initiative and can’t afford to sit back and play on the back foot. Therefore, it makes sense that he wants his team to progress the ball up the field as soon as they gain possession, rather than stringing sequences of passes together and risking the opponents closing them down.
However, there are downsides to that style of play, and, for Chile, it comes in them being too exposed at the back on occasion. Against the USA, Los Cóndores conceded, by the players’ own admission, some very soft tries which made life more difficult for themselves than they would have liked, and ensuring that they find the balance between going on the attack and not leaving themselves open is something that they will need to keep working on as they continue to develop.
Nevertheless, what they do have is a knack of never giving up, even when it looks as if a game is beyond them, and anyone who has faced them or watched will attest to the fact that they can never be counted out of a game until the final whistle has been blown. The USA found that out in both legs of their qualifying encounter, and it is a quality that got them to France and which they will be eager to show when the action gets underway, and all four of their pool stage opponents will need to be wary about slowing their own game down and giving Chile the impetus to fight their way back into a match.
There are a number of key players who really make Chile tick, with captain and flanker Martín Sigren someone who leads from the front and always plays with passion, whilst Santiago Videla is a versatile back who can play at fly-half, full-back or on the wing.
However, the player who will be really worth looking out for is fly-half Rodrigo Fernández, who epitomes Chile’s running game in so many ways. When he gets the ball, he loves to move up the field, and his ability to evade tackle attempts and to break through lines at ease always makes him a tricky player to contain.
If he can bring his creativity, nimbleness and awareness to the field in France, then Chile could prove difficult to keep back when they do have the ball.
With it being their first ever appearance at the World Cup, it would be hard to imagine Chile doing too much damage in their pool, especially as they will be coming up against seasoned World Cup opponents in England, Argentina, Japan and Samoa. Finishing at the bottom of the table does seem inevitable.
However, that is not to say that Lemoine’s side will be an easy team to play against, and they can be expected to give their all and to fight for every chance that they have to score points and to show what they can do.
Ultimately though, this tournament is for them about displaying to the world why Chilean rugby is on the up and what they could do in the future if they continue to finetune things on the field and receive the backing that they currently have off it, and many fans will have their eyes on them for that reason.