Francisco Urroz comes from sporting royalty and starts at No 15 against England for Los Condores
Being a member of the first squad of players to ever represent your country at a Rugby World Cup might be the honour of your life, and is an accolade reserved for a very select few. But for Chile full-back Francisco ‘Pancho’ Urroz, the jury is still out on whether his World Cup debut against England on Saturday in Lille will even be the biggest sporting achievement in his family.
A qualified doctor who assisted on Covid wards in his native Santiago de Chile during the pandemic, Urroz comes from Chilean sporting royalty.
“I honestly can’t say, but it’s definitely a big achievement,” he said when pressed on the matter. “My grandfather and my sister have both also represented Chile in their respective sports, and my aunt was a professional tennis player with appearances at Grand Slam tournaments.”
Urroz may have plenty of sporting pedigree but he is under no illusion of the challenge that facing off against England presents, with Steve Borthwick’s men in charge of Pool D having beaten fellow South Americans Argentina and Japan in their opening two games. It will be a challenge on a scale they have never faced before.
“To play against England, one of the most historic teams, the founders of the sport and a team with so much tradition – the truth is it’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Urroz.
“They are always candidates to win the World Cup or get through to the knockout stages, and they have extremely talented players in every position.”
Los Condores will play England for the first time in their rugby history when they clash at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille on Saturday.
“We want to go out there and measure ourselves against them. Not just step onto the field and freeze in the moment – we want to leave everything on the pitch and really see how we fare against some of the best players in the world,” added Urroz.
And when the battle is over, he is looking forward to some of the more beautiful moments that the game provides. He said: “I’d love to swap shirts with Marcus Smith. These are players we usually only see on television and Smith in particular is electric – an extremely talented operator.
“I think it’d be great to share a few words with them after the game, I’ve even been practicing my English so we can have a chat!” The two will likely have plenty to talk about after Urroz’s Rugby World Cup debut and Smith’s first ever professional start in the 15 jersey.
But how did Chile get to this point? Humbly, but with a strong sense of the magnitude of Los Condores’ qualification for the Rugby World Cup, Urroz recalls the historic day in July last year when the Chileans sealed their place in Pool D alongside England, Argentina, Samoa and Japan.
Their one-point victory over the USA across two legs deprived the Eagles of a World Cup spot for the first time in their history.
“I’d actually dislocated my shoulder earlier in the qualifying campaign, so I was there on the sidelines watching in Denver,” he explained.
“The match started terribly for us – we were 19-0 down, playing away from home in quite adverse conditions. Things were working out well for the USA, but we managed to stay strong mentally.”
He added: “We trusted in the plan of the coach (Pablo Lemoine) who knew that they only had 15 players who were truly match fit – the eight on the bench had barely played any rugby in the run-up to the game, whereas we had a full 23 ready to go when called upon.
“In the end, it came down to the last play of the game that could’ve gone either way, and luckily we had the belief and the faith that we could come away with the result we wanted – and we did.”
A hard-fought victory concluded a tumultuous qualifying campaign interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Yet Urroz insisted that in reality, the period when the players were quarantined in their homes between March and June 2020 was when they started to believe they could accomplish something never done before in over 100 years of Chilean rugby history.
He said: “We all kept in contact and followed training plans at home and Lemoine managed to secure early permission from the government to begin training together again, so we were perhaps ahead of some of the competition physically by August, when we played a South American regional tournament.
Read more: Chile Rugby World Cup squad
“We beat Uruguay, Brazil and lost to an Argentina XV by a single point – it was then we realised we were doing things well and the results were starting to show for it.”
Urroz explained that Selknam, Chile’s sole professional club side, has also been a key part of the World Cup project. Almost all of the squad in France play or have played for the franchise, who finished runners-up in the 2022 edition of Super Rugby Americas, losing out 24-13 to Penarol of Uruguay in Montevideo.
“It allowed us to have more players committing more time to the team, going through adversity together and no doubt contributed to our favourable results in Super Rugby Americas and against Canada and the US,” he said.
While the result is likely to be a stretch too far for Chile against England, there is plenty more at stake for Urroz and the Condores.