By Frankie Deges
Despite being forced to change venue at short notice, the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy, was staged successfully over the past couple of weeks in Temuco, southern Chile, thanks to the passion and hard work of a committed group of people.
“It was a very hard task as we had to start almost from scratch,” explained Dalivor Franulic, the Development Manager for the Chilean Rugby Federation. An experienced coach who had been involved in Chile’s previous JWRT presentations (Santiago 2008, Nairobi 2009 and Salt Lake City 2012), he knew first-hand what teams needed and he worked hard to get the local organising team one step in front.
“I knew we had to ensure that our visitors felt comfortable, that their Rugby needs were covered. The team’s reactions as they left on Monday confirmed this worked,” he said.
Araucanía Region Governor Andrés Molina, a close aide of the national president, and Mayor Miguel Becker, put together a task team ensuring there would be no organisational glitches.
“It was a privilege for us and the region to host such a great tournament. Having eight nations in Temuco was not only good fun but great exposure for a region that has everything: mountains and sea, farmland and great people,” said Molina.
35,000 spectators turned out
Spectator numbers were the highest in the tournament’s history, with some 35,000 attending games. Many of those spectators, who were attracted by a proactive communications campaign and the decision taken by local organisers to make this JWRT a free-entry event, were enjoying Rugby for the first time. And they saw some great action.
Italy were the best of the eight teams and only Canada were able to put them under real pressure. The Italians did give away points in two of the three pool games but only after they had established a good lead. The Gianluca Guidi-coached team were solid in all departments, with the size and technique to dominate most teams.
Canada were deserving finalists, having conclusively beaten three-time finalists Japan in pool play. The team probably lacked some confidence in that final and two sin bins were to prove costly. Expect to see some of this Canada team in the near future playing for the national side.
The surprise package of the tournament was Chile. Having beaten Portugal in the opening round, they were blown apart by Italy in the second game. Needing to win to secure a place in the third/fourth-place play-off, they were leading 20-0 against Namibia when they lost the rudder and the Africans went into the final five minutes winning by a single point. A late penalty by fullback Francisco Urroz gave Chile the narrow 23-21 win and a ticket back to the main Germán Becker Stadium.
Chile took third place in thriller
Urroz was again a hero in the 38-35 win that gave Chile third place. With the lead changing hand nine times, Japan held the advantage after 79 minutes and seemed destined to win. With nothing to lose, Chile attacked as they had for most of the game and Urroz kicked to the corner where wing Jan Hasenlechner jumped to take the ball and score a much celebrated try.
Heavy fields prevented the Asian representative team from playing in their preferred Japan style of fast, flowing Rugby. They did succumb to a stronger Canadian side and lost agonisingly to Chile but whenever they could, they played positive Rugby with wing Kai Ishii scoring and impressive six tries.
The Tongans struggled with the wet conditions but, true to their nature, played positive, exciting Rugby. They became Temuco favourites when they performed their sipi tau in the main city square after being challenged by local Rucamanque Rugby Club who themselves have a war dance from the original inhabitants of the region, the Mapuches.
In claiming fifth, they beat a Portuguese side that was the only debutant in JWRT 2016 and who certainly did not seem out of place. They beat Namibia to avoid the wooden spoon and had some moments of good Rugby. Uruguay, seventh, were unable to impose their confrontational style against pool opponents but deserved their win in the last game. Finally, Namibia challenged every one of their opponents, although they always seemed to leave it until late in the game.
Quality of JWRT rises each year
The standard of this tournament is rising every season. There were no easy games and the champions had to work hard for their promotion to next year’s IRB Junior World Championship.
“We saw tight games and some players who are ready for international Rugby. It was a superb tournament from every aspect,” said a delighted tournament director, Santiago Ramallo.
The everlasting Rugby legacy in the Araucanía, Temuco and venue towns of Freire and Pitrufquén will certainly push the growth of the game. Mayor Becker has pledged to build a Rugby stadium in the next couple of years – Temuco is aiming to be recognised as the “City of Sports”.
“We will buy 200 Rugby balls to be distributed in schools, parks and clubs. I played some Rugby growing up and knew what the game stood for but what we enjoyed during the JWRT, the lessons players taught with their on-field and off-field behaviour we want to ensure stay with us,” said Becker.
By Frankie Deges