Having recently qualified for a first Rugby World Cup, Chilean rugby is on a real high at the moment and hoping to create more history – in sevens.
Chile has never been a core team on either the men’s or women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series before but this weekend’s World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series is another opportunity to make the step up in level.
The winner of the respective tournaments will be promoted to the main World Series in 2023 and the men’s team are among the favourites.
Los Condores Sevens have had recent experience on the World Series, in Canada in 2021, as one of the invited teams, and are hoping to ride the crest of the wave created by the 15s team’s deeds last month.
Alfonso Escobar, one of the heroes of Chile’s famous win over USA, that clinched their place in France next year as Americas 2, is included in the 12-man roster and there would have been more had it not been for injury.
Lead coach, Edmundo Olfos, recognises the need to seize the moment.
“I have been leading the sevens for more than 10 years and we have had ups and downs but I think we are getting in a good moment, especially with our 15s qualifying for the World Cup in France,” he said.
“I know that is not directly connected to this group but indirectly it is very positive for the environment of Chile rugby, and I am sure it will give them a bit of an edge for the tournament.
“We have one of the 15s players involved in the group (Escobar) and the group has great energy and is prepared for this big challenge.”
Expanding on what Chile’s historic qualification for Rugby World Cup 2023 means to the country, Olfos added: “We are a developing rugby country where every little success spreads across the country. Qualification for France has given us a lot of media exposure, a lot of the players are getting more followers, Chile rugby has more followers, and politicians have been talking about how great rugby is and how great it is in society because of the values.
“It is a big moment for everyone involved in rugby here to try and grow the sport in all areas of Chile.
“It is like a dream qualifying for the 15s World Cup, and for us also to be a sevens core team is also a dream.
“It is a problem because we will have to put much more resources to be able to have players all year round but I am sure it would be a good problem to have.”
Olfos will be assisted at the Estadio Santa Laura by former Los Pumas fly-half Joaquín Todeschini.
“He has been helping me the last year and a half and his main role will be with the women’s team but, for this tournament, we decided he will be more with the guys. I will be around, we will be working together.
“The women need much more support. They are in the early stages of going from development to high performance and the men’s already is a high performance team because they are either playing in a semi-professional league or a professional league.”
Expecting the unexpected
The Challenger Series replicates the World Series competition format, with the 12 teams drawn into three pools. The top two from each as well as the two best third-placed finishers will qualify for the knockout stages.
Chile’s men have been drawn in Pool A with Korea, Papua New Guinea and Georgia, while the women’s team are set to face South Africa, China and Kenya in Pool D.
In both cases, Olfos admits there is an element of stepping into the unknown.
“For me, sevens is a very dangerous game, I say dangerous because you never know what can happen,” he pointed out.
“To have possession of the ball is key, your support has to be very close to the ball carrier to make good use of that possession and you need to be very structured, and you have to be very focused in defence because if you lose a one-on-one it is going to be a try.
“In this tournament. where you don’t know much about the other teams, it is worse because you don’t always know what to expect.”
After this weekend, Chile’s men will be competing in Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa on 9-11 September.
“It is the third time in a (Sevens) World Cup, the last time was in 2018 when we lost against Ireland (17-12). It was a great game and we lost after conceding a try near the end,” said Olfos.
“For us, the first goal is to qualify for the Series and our second is to use it as main preparation for the (Sevens) World Cup.”