By Nicolas Perico Daza
Colombian Rugby XIII halfback
COLOMBIA’S FIRST STEPS
It thought it was a prank when my Colombian Rugby League friends Juan David Espinal and Sebastian Maya first told me there would be a Latin American Championship in November 2017 in Chile, with many country teams invited.
Perhaps, they said, you should form a group of guys from Bogota to join the rest of the squad. As soon as they told me, I already knew what I had to do.
Firstly, I contacted my mate Hector Linares, a rugby player and coach of a well-known university in Bogotá, to help me out with a training program to display the sport and attract new Rugby League (Rugby XIII) players.
From the beginning we knew that our target had to be tough guys and well-skilled players because we wanted to achieve a position in the Rugby League International Federation world rankings, our main goal.
We started to invite people to train at the university pitch where Hector works, so we met lots of people who were interested but had no idea about Rugby League.
Previously in Brisbane I had met Robert Burgin, who was my coach there and was keen to help us with training videos through Facebook and YouTube. He made the sessions quite easy to understand, but bloody hard.
Even though I’d been playing league for just one year I turned myself into the coach of the team with the ambition being to keep growing the number of people interested around the country.
One month before the Latin American Championship, we had to take the hardest decision ever, and choose just six guys who would represent our region, as we only had funds to afford six flights from Bogota.
We decided to named Manuel Baene Murillo, Daniel Vera, Andres Peña, Duvan Barrera, Hector Linares and myself. They were selected on the basis that they showed much commitment, camaraderie and, most importantly, love for this new sport.
I reckon we didn’t realise the extent of what was involved in going down to Chile, meeting up with the rest of the squad, and trying to make a statement in one of the toughest sports on the planet.
We wanted to start on the right foot, achieve the world ranking, and show to the rest of the world what Colombia was able to do. But this was all much, much easier said than done.
Once we reached Los Angeles, we’d already flown for five hours and traveled an additional seven hours in a bus that only stopped few times to pick up travelers.
Having few options but to eat junk food all journey, and wanting to sleep more than anything, we were definitely under-prepared.
We knew the first day of the championship we were drawn to face Argentina, so we already knew it was going to be a physical game.
On Friday morning, bloody early in the morning, El Salvador player Jose Martinez (who was there to film the games) woke us up to invite us to join a training session. It was freezing outside and the last thing I wanted to do was training on the morning of a game. At least, that’s what I thought initially. After seeing the motivation on the faces of the other Colombian guys, who had been preparing by training and playing footy in northern Chile in Antofagasta, there was extra motivation for us. We joined the team for the coldest training session ever in our lives, no doubt about it.
MATCH AGAINST ARGENTINA
The match started up with the final line-up decided by Seb Martinez, the most experienced player in the Colombian team. I’d played with Seb in Brisbane a couple of times and I consider him a very good friend of mine. It was tough for Seb to be in that position as he’d just met a lot of the players, but no one else wanted to take the responsibility, so he stepped into the role. The first 10 minutes of the game were incredible. Colombia was playing really well, although both teams were finding their way and committing more errors and penalties than they would like. Eventually that made Colombia lose fluency and cost us meters and points. At the times we lost concentration, Argentina knew how to take advantage very well. After the first half we realized that we weren’t playing how we had planned, so we decided to start sticking to a gameplan, no matter the result, so we could improve in future. We ended up the second half scoring a try to Seb Martinez, but lost 36-4. However it came with the satisfaction of sticking closer to a gameplan and making many observations that would help us improve for the next game.
The boys were proud enough of the things showed on the pitch against a very well and prepared team like Argentina, however there was a hunger. We knew we could’ve played better and received a better result. I can say we all agreed about the feedback and the pieces of advice given in the aftermath. Then, we decided to forget the result and focused in our next match against Brazil. I reckon it was worth losing in some ways, because after this match we could feel a really strong brotherhood. It was really nice to see most of the guys helping in the kitchen to feed up the boys and others trying to heal the injured guys. After dinner, I was extremely confident we would win the next game.
MATCH AGAINST BRAZIL
The Saturday morning was awful. It wasn’t just the cold weather and the pain in the shoulders, but there was so little time to rest. Those people who know Latinos well, they know we like to sleep in! There was no time for this however. The necessity of training to correct our weaknesses made us get up and go the pitch. We did a totally different style of training; we started talking about the good things and the bad things in our first performance, and, for our good luck, some of the more experienced Chilean guys came over and helped us out with some plays and things they’d noticed from our match against Argentina.
That session went extremely well. All of the guys were so happy because we felt we’d known each other for so long by that point. The confidence in all of us was in the clouds.
We did some changes in the line-up, with the difference being that others aside from Seb Martinez took some responsibility for how the formation operated. We all agreed in how we wanted to start and how to play. The first half was amazing – all the things we trained for happened on the field, we put on three tries and led 16-0. However, an act of bad behavior saw us reduced by one player on the field and cost us a lot in defence. For the second half, Brazil gained more confidence in their game, and we grew short of interchanges. We started to feel exhausted, and as Brazil scored three tries of their own, we were staring at the distinct possibility of another loss or a draw.
I remember saying to Seb “Mate I cannot even run, I’m that exhausted” and he answered “Me neither, but let’s try it again. Hit a gap” and then asking the forwards “Who can run?”. Bombero (Andres Peña) yelled out “Yes, give it to me” and he kept saying the same thing on every set of six. That made me forget how exhausted I was and it gave me strength enough to keep tackling and running. We fell behind on the scoreboard, but then came back with a try in the last few minutes to win 22-18. With the last whistle we forgot how tired we were and started jumping, running and screaming like we were winning the World Cup. We were so happy because we achieved not only the daunting goal of getting into the world rankings of Rugby League, we were part of our nation’s first ever victory!
Now Colombia is in 40th position of the ranking, with an ambition to start climbing.
I want to thank the Latin Heat family for giving me experiences like this. Since I was in Australia, I wanted to show the world that this family is worldwide and how much a happy and proud Latino it makes you to represent your heritage.
- he 100% volunteer-run Latin American Rugby League was supported by Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taquerias, Shield Security Pty Ltd, Tattoo Tears, Cast Graphics, IntaGas Services, LS Tax & Accounting Services, Retro-Com Digital TV Specialists, Colombianos en Brisbane, GMA Tourism, EMSA Education and Migration Services Australia, Lichtnauer and Associates Accountants, The Edge Home Loans, Oaky North Lodge CFMEU, ACTIVE Rehabilitation Physiotherapy, Radio Austral and Fighting For Fitness Gym.
CHILE 32 (Jonathan Espinoza 3, Zecil Yao, Mana Castillo-Sioni, Piero Diaz; James Horvat 3, Jonathan Espinoza goals) beat ARGENTINA 12 (Dario Moyano, Facundo Lizarzuay tries; Facundo Lizarzuay 2 goals) at Cancha de Golf 7 Rios, Los Angeles, Chile. Referee: Juan Perez. Touch Judges: Andrew Charles, Pablo Baeza. Halftime: Chile 20-6. Interchanges: Argentina 5, Chile 6.
THIRD PLACE PLAYOFF
COLOMBIA 22 (Manuel Baene Murillo 3, Daniel Vera Giraldo tries, Hector Linares 3 goals) beat BRASIL 18 (Liniker Periera de Faria, Mauro Amorim Filho, Elias Cardoso tries; Lucas Vinas Vieira 3 goals) at Cancha de Golf 7 Rios, Los Angeles, Chile. Referee: Andrew Chalres. Touch Judges: Juan Perez, Pablo Baeza. Halftime: Colombia 16-0. Interchanges: Colombia 5, Brasil 4.
FEMALE NINES EXHIBITION.
Game 1: Argentina 6 beat Chile 0.
Game 2: Argentina 20 beat Chile 0.
ARGENTINA 36 (Ignacio Traversa 3, Gustavo Cosso, Ares Martinez, Fernando Lopez, Ariel Cosso tries; Facundo Lizarzuay 2 goals, Juan De Revere 2 goals) defeated COLOMBIA 4 (Sebastian Martinez try) at Cancha Golf 7 Rios, Los Angeles, Chile. Referee: Juan Perez. Touch Judges: Andrew Charles, Iziah Esera Catrileo. Halftime: Argentina 20-0. Interchanges: Argentina 6, Colombia 9.
CHILE 54 (Jonathan Espinoza 3, Piero Diaz 3, James Horvat 2, Javier Aedo, Eduardo Wegener tries; James Horvat 7 goals) defeated BRASIL 8 (Liniker Faria, Gabriel Ribeiro tries) at Cancha Golf 7 Rios, Los Angeles, Chile. Referee: Andrew Charles. Touch Judges: Juan Perez, Iziah Esera Catrileo. Halftime: 20-4. Interchanges: Chile 6, Brazil 4.