Las Tucanes had a disappointing time in the first WXV 3 tournament in Dubai last year and will face the Netherlands to decide which of the two teams returns to World Rugby’s global women's 15s competition in 2024.
The match will not be easy and there will be plenty at stake for Colombia's women in 80 minutes to be played in the cold European climate.
"It will not be simple," an enthusiastic Luis Pedro Achard admits, as he discusses his new role in which he will attempt to use his enormous international rugby experience to help aid the growth of Colombian rugby.
After participating in an international search, the Federación Colombiana de Rugby selected the 50-year-old former Uruguay sevens coach to oversee its men's and women's national teams in Medellín, the country's rugby stronghold.
“While the role includes working with all the national teams, the first task will be with the women as they have this hugely important game against the Netherlands. In 80 minutes, it will be decided if we can keep South America’s berth in WXV 3,” he says in conversation with World Rugby.
Las Tucanes did not have it easy in the inaugural WXV 3 in Dubai in October, where they suffered defeats against Fiji, Ireland and Kenya, a team they had defeated two years before in Nairobi.
“The player base is not yet wide in Colombia," he adds. "Last year the women had in a small window of time, the WXV 3, the Pan American Games and the National Games that are very important in the country, confirming that the small pool players was insufficient.”
While the short-term goal is clear, “after the game in the Netherlands we will play against Brazil, in June or July, to qualify to Rugby World Cup 2025", Achard knows that growing the number of players able to compete at the highest level is key.
“The reality of men and women is different since the girls have more opportunities to compete because they have won their chances over the years,” he says.
Regarding men, "the plan is to start closing that gap with other South American countries and working hard to achieve those classifications that take the route that are needed to reduce those results with countries in 15s rugby".
“When I visited Medellín last month, there was a national camp for future U17 and U18 talents; the biotype of the Colombian athlete is very good with large, powerful, fast boys," he says.
"We must work on individual techniques, skills and rugby development in the country. What I saw is very much encouraging for the future."
The competition, Achilles heel of every growth project, is key and rugby in the South American country faces a huge challenge at the local level. "It serves for players to improve," Achard says.
Colombian sport has significant state support as well as from the Olympic Committee; playing the next Pan American Games in 2027 at home in Barranquilla also puts rugby in a need to seek growth.
The women played at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games but this year they will not participate in the World Rugby HSBC Sevens Challenger 2024, which could be seen as a blessing in disguise as all the focus will be placed on the game with the Netherlands.
Achard says: “It's all very soon, very quick, obviously, but the idea is to develop a long-term plan despite needing such an immediate result. It is working with time, with a large base of players of both genders, to be prepared for commitments that are important for our future.”
Uruguayan rugby will now have a third international coach, with Pablo Lemoine leading Chile to Rugby World Cup 2023 and Emiliano Caffera now working with Brazil. This is new.
“As Uruguayans, we are very grateful for the support of Argentine rugby, which has been the fundamental stone of our rugby. We are part of that product," Achard explains.
“All my life in my training as a coach I learned a lot from Argentine coaches, who became friends and helped me improve. Having three international coaches speaks of the growth of Uruguayan rugby in all its structures.”
Achard, who since leaving Los Teros Sevens after Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 has not formally been head coach of a team, is happy to return to high performance rugby.
“I love the challenge. I had to get up-to-date with many things, and the South America Rugby Academy in December was very useful. While I helped in my club, Trébol de Paysandú, I had to work hard to be ready as the game evolves very quickly.”
But, as Achard emphasises, "rugby is one and you quickly catch up!"
Photo: Alex Burbano / Colombia Rugby