Los Pumas Sevens coach Santiago Gómez Cora has fond memories of Los Angeles and the Dignity Health Sports Park, even if he didn't make it to the final.
He was an integral member of the first Argentina sevens team that won a Series tournament in 2004, although he was on the sidelines for the final, circumstances cutting short what had been a great tournament for the Argentina speedster.
A year later, Argentina would reach the final again, but Gómez Cora was unable to play.
By 2009, Gómez Cora was the team captain and when the tournament moved a few miles south, he would raise the trophy.
It wasn't until HSBC Canada Sevens in Vancouver earlier this season that Argentina would win its third trophy. A fourth in Los Angeles this weekend could even help them become HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2022 champions.
Currently in third place, they need to win every game and hope that South Africa don't to make it to the top eight
Focusing on the rugby
Right now, a potential trophy isn't Gómez Cora's focus.
His focus is on playing good rugby; the rest will fall into place.
“We are in a good place, in a very peculiar year,” says the affable 'Santi', as he is known to all in rugby sevens.
“What is good is that the team did not rest on its laurels after Tokyo,” he says, referring to Argentina’s much-lauded silver medal in the 2020 Olympic Games a year ago.
“We wanted to be a competitive team that was aware that results might come which is great, and if they didn't, at least we prepared well for the tournament and shouldn't be frustrated.”
Success brings renewal
Being competitive was the mindset for a team that has continuously worked towards the future.
After success came a natural renewal in the squad, with some players moving to 15s and others going overseas. Scrum-half Lautaro Bazán Vélez, a key component in Gómez Cora's team, played in the first of three tests against Scotland in July, fresh after winning in Vancouver, for example.
“They are cycles and as the team can always change, we have a baseline of 24 players we work with.
“What we liked this season was that even without some of the established players, we were competitive throughout as a team, and we played good rugby.”
Recent success brought public recognition for players and reaffirmation of the work Gómez Cora, lieutenant Leonardo Gravano and all staff are doing. The hard work behind the success in Tokyo and later Vancouver has brought dividends.
“Now people know who we are and understand that what we achieved was on the back of something. That is good for all of us.”
The next step is Los Angeles.
“It is another tournament,” says Gómez Cora, confirming his aim of improving beyond just results.
“We know what is at stake; we tell the players about the need to grow, to play better, with more volume, more attack. But we work on getting better every day; if the focus is on winning, there is nothing behind not winning.
“We are in an uncomfortable place at the moment, after a two-month gap, with everything at stake. But it is not the end of the world. In fact, the start of the season and a good start [in Los Angeles] will push us in the right direction.”
The team is in constant renewal mode and in Los Angeles, Gómez Cora will have two debutants in Franco Rossetto and Alejo Lavayén, two players that have been working with the sevens team for a few months.
Superstar Marcos Moneta has not travelled to Los Angeles but is expected to join the team for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 in Cape Town in September. The team will be captained by 36-year old Gastón Revol, who is expected to become a first-time father the week after the showpiece takes place.
“We know that Rugby World Cup Sevens is cut-throat, we could be meeting New Zealand in the second game so we need to work on the processes and not on the wins.
“Our big goal is Paris 2024.”
Photo credit: Frankie Deges