Fervor and play without calculation… Why Chile is already the favorite team of this World Cup

At the Toulouse Stadium,

“Chi-le… Chi-chi-chi… Le-le-le… Viva Chile…” If you have the chance to go see the rookies of this World Cup in Bordeaux against Samoa, in Lille against England or Nantes against Argentina, prepare to keep this tune in your head long after you return home. And to hear the funny whistles echoing in your skulls reminiscent of those of the mynahs, which, upon further information, draw on the folklore and deep identity of this long country.

Because if, as captain Martin Sigren indicates, “Chile is not yet a rugby country”, it attracts an audience of aficionados that we did not suspect before the debut of the Condors in a World Cup, this Sunday in Toulouse against Japan. Although outnumbered by the Japanese tide which overwhelmed the Pink City, the South American fans won the duel from the stands. Even players and staff were surprised by this popular fervor. Pablo Lemoine’s team finally lost by 30 points (42-12)? Yes. But she sowed joy and seeds of hope on the pitch of the Stadium, crushed by heat.

“It’s an incredible day for Chilean rugby,” exclaimed afterwards the coach of Uruguayan nationality, a former successful pillar of Stade Français. It’s historic for us but also for the World Cup. Today, I think there were 15,000 Chileans in the audience, it was incredible and that’s perhaps the most important thing to remember, we created something new. We fulfilled the contract. »

Torrealba, the Dupont of Santiago

His team got off to a dream start by scoring in the 6th minute through fly-half Rodrigo Fernandez, already the author of a fantastic achievement, voted essay of the year 2022, during the epic round-trip qualifying play-off won against the United States. The colleagues of scrum half Marcelo Torrealba, the Antoine Dupont of Santiago, sent each other like crazy, tackled as if their lives depended on it. It must be said that this match represented a sort of liberation after a quasi-military preparation initiated by Lemoine three years ago, with training in the marine infantry along the way.

“I hope we gave a good show,” said Iñaki Ayarza, the fullback with the physique of a model. We are very happy but also disappointed, our goal is never to lose. We made a lot of sacrifices to be there. » With Sigren (Doncaster, English D2) and right pillar Matias Dittus (Périgueux, 3rd French division), Ayarza is one of three Condors to play far from the nest, at Soyaux-Angoulême (Pro D2). The others are amateurs, play for the Selknam franchise in the South American Super Rugby Americas league and have therefore followed commando-style training while juggling their other activities.

Francisco Urroz, father of a Chilean player, on the forecourt of the Toulouse Stadium this Sunday before the World Cup match against Japan.
Francisco Urroz, father of a Chilean player, on the forecourt of the Toulouse Stadium this Sunday before the World Cup match against Japan. – Nicolas Stival / 20 Minutes

“It was really very hard,” rewinds Francisco Urroz, encountered by chance on the Stadium square before the match and father of… Francisco Urroz, versatile three-quarterback absent from the sheet this Sunday. My son trained every day at 7 a.m., before going to medical school and then returning to the field at 5 p.m. This is different from other countries which pay for their players to play for the national team. Parents often have to help. » Even if the situation tends to change, rugby in Chile (as in Argentina) remains a story of well-born boys, who went to prestigious private schools.

Four siblings in the squad

But the Condors see themselves as missionaries who have come to France to help their sport “become second” in their country, behind the untouchable football, as Sigren hopes. “Until now, it was our loved ones and enthusiasts who came to see our matches,” says the solid center Matias Garafulic, one of the representatives of the four siblings in the squad (his brother Nicolas, injured, is out of the competition ). Today, our meeting was broadcast on a free channel in the country and the whole world could see it. »

“I am always proud of my players, I know where they come from, all the efforts they have made to be here,” recalls Lemoine. But today I saw players like I didn’t know, they took it up a notch. I return to the hotel with a beautiful image of them. »

Faced with stronger Japanese but far from the team that surprised the world in 2015 then in 2019 (quarter-final at home), the 22nd nation in the world did not go the distance, with two tries conceded in the last 10 minutes. She also paid dearly for her two yellow cards in the first period, the first of which was very, very avoidable, on a delayed tackle from Dittus. If you add a few committed forwards at key moments, you paint a fairly complete picture of what must be called rookie mistakes.

That said, the Chileans well deserved their victory lap, before the reunion with families and friends who came in large numbers. “Coming out of the warm-up, I saw my father crying,” replays the excellent hooker Diego Escobar, brother of the hard-hitting No. 8 Alfonso. It gave me energy and made me want to give my body and soul. » To release a few tears of joy afterwards, like all these Condors, forever the first in the history of Chilean rugby.

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