Uruguay rugby legend Pablo Lemoine is back in South America as head coach of a Chile team looking to close the gap on their Americas Rugby Championship (ARC) rivals.
Los Condores are without a win since beating Brazil 25-22 in the opening round of the inaugural ARC in 2016 and go into this year's tournament determined to snap a 14-game losing sequence.
While Chile's record in the continent's flagship competition does not make for great reading, the appetite for change is there and has led to Lemoine coming on board.
Will to change
“I've found a lot of enthusiasm to change things: from the players to president Jorge Araya and his council and from rugby director Dalivor Franulic,” says Lemoine ahead of the fourth edition of the Americas Rugby Championship.
"Chile has everything in them to change, a huge potential."
After a brief stint with Germany, which followed his long association with Uruguay as both player and coach, Lemoine arrived in Santiago towards the end of last year tasked with the job of helping Chile make up lost ground. and improve on their current World Rugby Ranking of 30th. They were once as high as 23rd.
His pedigree is undisputed, not only in his knowledge of the game but in his ability to build lasting foundations. Lemoine's legacy with Uruguay was a high performance department that has helped Los Teros become one of the emerging forces of the game.
“There is an ambition to look at what other countries have done to generate change, and we agreed (on the best way forward) from the word go. The players were needing a change and they are the ones who are always exposed, as they have to compete, be it in the ARC or in the test windows, against teams with high performance programmes, academies and far more advanced structures."
Commitment to the cause
Lemoine’s first game in charge of Chile was against a Sudamérica XV selection in preparation for the historic game against the Maori All Blacks.
Despite two losses, Lemoine was encouraged by what he saw. “I found a number of fully committed players and a will that it can be done.”
His past experience in setting up a high performance plan will certainly help Chile achieve their goals.
“We will have to fight the battles that Argentina and Uruguay had to endure to explain what high performance and its programmes are. Clearly, the big challenge is to create the right culture, where players understand the importance of training and are ready to commit long term. Players have to work very hard and know where they are now is not enough; you have to always strive for more.
"Fortunately, the answers to all the questions that will come up from different corners are relatively easy to answer."
The Americas Rugby Championship has released the 2019 schedule and this year’s competition will see six nations playing five games each over six weeks.— RugbyAmericasNorth (@RugbyAmericasN) November 5, 2018
ARC to test Chile
Less straightforward will be the challenge laid down by defending champions USA, who provide Chile with their first opponent in La Pintana on 2 February.
“The ARC is clearly the tournament that challenges us the most, with more games and against teams of a high standard. It is a tournament in which we definitely have to start winning," states Lemoine.
"We want this tournament to be a starting point, one in which staff, players and the whole structure of Chilean rugby is tested so that we can get better teams out of it. For us, it is the tournament as we will be playing against teams and players thinking ahead to Japan. In comparison, this is our Rugby World Cup.”
His previous knowledge of Chilean rugby, albeit from an Uruguayan viewpoint, helps Lemoine understand what is needed to move forward.
“Looking from the outside, one of the mistakes they used to do was to put all the emphasis on qualifying for the Rugby World Cup – it was the World Cup or nothing. What we are telling the players is that the World Cup will be a consequence of the work put in."
Ready to fight
Chile is at a crossroads, ready to embark on the start of a new era, and Lemoine is confident of a much better showing from the team in the coming weeks and months.
“We are asking players to put everything in and that is what they are doing," he says, proudly. "In this ARC you will find better-prepared players who are hungry to stand their place and a team that will not capitulate. In previous tournaments, they were not well prepared and lost by big scores. We will challenge our opponents and prove that we can compete.”
The second round will bring an extra challenge to Lemoine. He will return to the Estadio Charrúa he helped to build, to tackle a team with many players he selected and developed in the successful Uruguayan High Performance programme.
“I spent some very good times there. Going back will be different, but the challenge I have here in Chile is one I m very keen on and that includes moments such as Uruguay, a team I gave everything to,” concludes Lemoine.
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