Chile has seen rugby gradually emerge over the years. His national team achieved a major feat by qualifying for the World Cup, a first and a milestone for Chilean and South American rugby.
The development of this sport really began in 2019 with the creation of the first “professional” club in the country: Selknam Rugby, in Santiago. Its name is a tribute to the Selknam Native American people, originally from Patagonia.
The club participates in Súper Rugby Américas, a competition bringing together the best professional teams on the continent and which has given a boost to South American rugby. The Selknam quickly established themselves among the best professional teams in South America.
In 2022, the team reached the championship final, an exceptional performance for such a recent formation. “With the start of professionalization, my teammates who play in the country train a lot more and play a series of matches against great teams. This helps us progress,” explains Iñaki Ayarza, a Chilean international who now plays for Angoulême. Despite a more difficult 2023 season due to the arrival of new Argentine franchises, 30 of the 33 players selected this World Cup are from Selknam.
Chilean rugby owes a lot to… an Uruguayan. Pablo Lemoine was one of the pillars of the great adventure of Stade Français with three French championship titles in the 2000s. “He’s a legend for us, it’s thanks to him that we qualified », adds Iñaki Ayarza. Having become a coach, he had already achieved the feat of taking the Uruguay team to the World Cup in 2015. In 2019, he put his experience to the benefit of Selknam Rugby, of which he took the reins. Two years later, he became coach of the Chilean national team.
Three Chileans are playing in Europe: captain Martin Sigren, third row of Doncaster Knights (English D2), Matias Dittus in Périgueux (Nationale 1) and Iñaki Ayarza in Soyaux Angoulême (Pro D2). The others are mostly semi-professional players, who play in Chile and whose remuneration is around around 400 euros. “The majority of players are juggling rugby and studies, while others have finished their studies and decided to take a break from their professional careers just to play rugby and participate in this World Cup,” says the player from Angoulême. These players share a deep passion for rugby and strong friendships.
A family was created around coach Pablo Lemoine. “We all know each other, I know each other’s families, we grew up together and we are ready to die for each of ours. There are 4 siblings on the team, so yes we can talk about family (laughs),” the player continues.
“Since we qualified for this World Cup, there has been a buzz around us, it’s incredible, two or three times as many Chileans are following us. Our matches are broadcast on television, we have a lot of interviews, it's incredible. We hope that this World Cup will be just a first step towards the development of rugby in our country. We want to make young people want to play rugby, we are on a mission here in France,” he says, moved.
The town of Perros-Guirec, in Côtes-d’Armor, was chosen as the base camp by “Los Cóndores”. “We are so proud to welcome Chile, during the opening ceremony we felt a real harmony between the players and the locals. They chose our city to find precisely this closeness that they know in their country. We have the same values and it shows. »