Instant gratification will come in many forms for Chilean rugby after their Cóndores shocked the USA Eagles and qualified for Rugby World Cup 2023 as Americas 2.
With games in Pool D booked against new opponents England, Japan and Samoa, and neighbours Argentina, the Chilean Condors will now join the elite come September next year in France.
As soon as the name of the Americas 2 qualifier was known, gratification started to come through.
With tears not yet dry on the faces of the Chilean rugby community, new Sports Minister Alexandra Benado, in welcoming the team back to the country, said that plans are underway to redevelop Chile’s high performance centre in the foothills of the Andes, overlooking the city of Santiago.
“We have also secured World Rugby funds for the next five years,” adds Lemoine who has taken his team from a development to a competitive stage in four years.
Arriving in 2018 having organised his native Uruguay’s High Performance plans in the early 2010s – that has taken them to RWC 2015, 2019 and now to France – he had a huge task at hand.
“At first, we chose those players who most wanted to grow. To choose the best player, you have to know if he is prepared for the path that has to be taken," Lemoine explained.
"Sometimes that best one does not have the mental capacity to overcome some moments in that process that were not good – multiple difficulties.
"Adversities are for strong people."
This resilience, installed in the personalities of his young squad was crucial.
Never give in
Their home game in Santiago, played under a deluge, in which they scored a last-minute try that sent them to Colorado trailing by one point, was seen as a victory of sorts.
"I knew we would win in the United States, I had a lot of faith in winning there," Lemoine said.
"If we were still in the game in the last 20 minutes, with good reserves, we would break them."
At Infinity Park, they overcame a 20-point deficit with 50 minutes to play in the second test of the home and away series to book their ticket to France.
With 90 seconds on the clock, with the USA Eagles trailing by two points, referee Luke Pearce awarded a penalty within range for the efficient AJ McGinty to turn around the series.
As he was preparing to tee up the ball, through the TMO the penalty was reversed due to foul play; USA lost their opportunity to secure their World Cup ticket there and then. The whole of Chile erupted in joy.
“If they had taken those three points and we still had a minute to play, we would have won it,” Pablo Lemoine is convinced, as he will again be taking an unlikely national team to a Rugby World Cup.
From the ensuing lineout, lock Clemente Saavedra won the ball and soon Santiago Videla kicked for touch; celebratory pandemonium ensued. This was the final kick for the winger who scored a try, converted his team’s four tries and added the 75th-minute winning penalty.
Chile had started its strongest team at home and for the second leg, fresh legs were used in the opening hour, with the cavalry ready to take the field to close the game out. Lemoine and his able team of assistants knew that his squad was stronger than Gary Gold’s.
“It was good to use all our players,” he said.
Hooker Augusto Böhme, who played the final 29 minutes against his regular opponents in Major League Rugby was delighted: “This is something you've waited a lifetime for. Now Rugby World Cup is in sight.
"Thanks to the support of Sudamérica Rugby we were fair winners today. It was a long process, with a lot of work. We don't have the best facilities, we lack things, but we have the human factor. There is a little over a year until the World Cup, let's enjoy it”.
His prop Matías Dittus was also overjoyed. After his second half effort that included a try, he said: “It's been a long four years of hard work. Today is and will be an unforgettable day in my life.
“I think the game was well planned. We had full confidence in our coaching staff and we went step by step. We did it!."
Take Selknam from the equation, the Superliga Americana de Rugby franchise, and the result would not have been the same.
The Chilean team, finalists in this year's competition that pitches six teams from the region, was the ideal opportunity to work with most players on a day-to-day basis.
Combinations were found, players developed. Many were in awe of Rodrigo Fernández’s try in the opening game, slaloming through nine tackles in the heavy rain; in Glendale he created another. He was only repeating his form that grew game to game in SLAR.
Take 21-year-old hooker Diego Escobar, younger brother of number eight Alfonso. He took every opportunity that came his way and his performances showcased the growth of a young team.
His father Alfonso, who had captained Chile in two failed RWC qualifying campaigns, was amongst the first to jump onto the field at the final whistle to join in the wild celebrations.
There are many reasons why Chile has broken into the elite and will be taking their rugby to the world on the biggest of stages. Daniel Hourcade, who runs High Performance for the regional association has worked closely with Chile Rugby and Lemoine in the past five years.
“There are tactical, strategic, technical and physical reasons for the win,” he says.
“All that was worked on, and very well, for a long time. But confidence, a strong head, making the players believe in themselves has been the central point, the key to them qualifying.
“Both games were uphill battles, with the Eagles taking the lead; Chile never lost its calm, nor their axis, and always kept fighting. This way, Los Cóndores achieved what they achieved.
“Everybody deserves to be applauded. This was not a surprising win, the conviction was there. Staff, players, leadership and support from the Union. Without all of this, these enormous steps cannot be taken.”
Lemoine adds: “We did a very good work, with a good programme that controlled the players, made them better. We were able to work things with more time than any other Tier 2 nation. Even COVID helped as we were able to train without the pressure of performing for many months. And SLAR was a catalyst.
“Now we will be boosted by World Rugby so that we have the best possible Rugby World Cup.”
In a country with few international sporting success, Chile securing their place in the elite will ensure big government and private support, with playing numbers hopefully soaring.
“I don’t know how many people know the pressure we were under to get here,” adds Lemoine. “Not qualifying meant that we would not be able to continue growing.”