By Jon Newcombe
After three years in the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy wilderness Chile Under 20s return to the global stage looking to give head coach Daniel Graco the perfect send off.
Graco returned home to Córdoba, Argentina, shortly after the conclusion of the senior South American Championship at the end of May. Chile finished a disappointing third on home soil, the one-point defeat to eventual runners-up Uruguay being a particularly bitter pill to swallow.
But the JWRT in Salt Lake City, USA, (June 18-30) provides Graco with one final assignment and the chance to end his four years in charge of Chilean rugby in style. Chile will certainly not lack for confidence after an historic victory over Argentina Under 19s in the build-up to JWRT 2012.
A 33-14 win over their neighbours, for so long the dominant force in South American rugby, is believed to be the first over an Argentinean national team in a century of competitive Rugby between the countries.
But assistant coach Rodrigo Boye remains pragmatic in his view that a stand-alone tournament, such as the Junior World Rugby Trophy, presents different challenges.
“It was a great match against Argentina Under 19s and, of course, it gives us great confidence because it shows we can compete with good teams. But now we are heading into a world-class tournament where we must be focused in every match,” he said.
“We have to be prepared for three matches in eight days and our rest and recovery must be spot on.”
Chile qualified for JWRT 2012 after defeating Uruguay in a South American qualifier. It is the first time they have been present in the tournament since it was staged in Kenya in 2009, the year after they hosted the inaugural event in Santiago.
Boye coached the team on both occasions but he expects the standard to be higher than ever before in Salt Lake City.
“We expect it to be a fast-paced tournament because every year the competition gets better and better,” he said. “The fact that a strong team like Romania has failed to even qualify shows how much the standard keeps going up and up. We’re in a very tough pool with Russia, USA and Tonga.
“But we’re not getting ahead of ourselves at all, our focus is purely on the opening match against Russia. We know they will be a big, strong team, but we are confident in our own ability.
“We have got a good balance between our forwards and a skilful back line, and we have been training hard to achieve a win in the first game.”
Jointly captained by Vincente Jolly and Juan Pablo Larenas, Chile will have one of the youngest squads in the tournament, with a handful of players aged 18 or under. One to keep an eye on is 97kg centre, Matias Nordenflycht.
Nordenflycht is the side’s long-range goal kicker and was amongst the try-scorers in the famous win over Argentina Under 19s.
The other junior members are Jan Hasenlechner, Nordenflycht’s centre partner at the Craighouse Old Boys club, back row Anton Petrowitsch and second row Mario Mayol.
Big things are also expected of 20-year-old Tomas Ianiszewski. A skilful full back with Stade Francais (the Chilean club not the one of the same name in France), Ianiszewski represented Chile’s Sevens squad at last year’s Pan American Games in Mexico.
Since successfully hosting JWRT 2008, Chile can field 15 players who have graduated from the Under 20s into the senior team. And Boye predicts that many of the current group of teenagers will tread this familiar path to the top of the game.
“We failed to qualify for the last two years so it is great to be involved again,” he said.
“The Junior World Rugby Trophy is a great opportunity for our players to play in an international competition and, over the past five years, the Under 20s has been the pathway to the senior squad. I think there is a good chance that many of these current players will also go on to play for the senior team.”