Daniel Hourcade, coach of the National Rugby TeamTuesday, January 14, 2014
‘It is crucial for players to enjoy themselves together’
Born: Tucumán, June 7, 1958
Nicknames: Huevo or Francés
Ocuppation: The Pumas coach
Studies: Universidad Nacional de Tucumán
Favourite newspaper: La Gaceta, Tucumán
The Pumas coaching job fell on Daniel Hourcade’s lap as he was preparing for a long overdue holiday. Reminiscing in an interview with the Herald, Hourcade said he had just landed from a two-week tour of Canada with Argentina’s Second XV and as he was rushing to a doctor’s appointment in Buenos Aires before boarding his flight home to Tucumán, Daniel Hourcade was unaware that previous national coach Santiago Phelan was resigning. Asked over the phone to take the job, he said yes. Of course he said yes.
Things evolved very quickly, how ready were you?
Being Pumas coach has always been a dream, a job for which I have prepared all of my life. But I had put it in the back of my mind as the decision of who coaches which team was really out of my hands. That and the fact that I was really enjoying coaching the future Pumas either with the Pampas XV or the Jaguars. Coaches have to work hard with whichever team they are, if then you get asked to work with higher teams, it means you have done a good job.
Yours is a long career as a rugby coach.
I started coaching in Tucumán while still playing, as most of us do in rugby. Soon after retiring, I was given the reigns of age-group provincial teams, then the full provincial team. In 2001, I coached Argentina U21 and also was with the national sevens team in the early 2000s before moving to Portugal. I worked with their national team, qualifying for and playing in Rugby World Cup 2007. I then coached in France and as I was on my way back to Portugal, I was offered to return to Argentina to handle the newly formed Pampas XV (team selected from local players that performed in South Africa’s Vodacom Cup) and Argentina’s 2nd XV, the Jaguars. I worked with them from 2010 until this November.
The way the Puma job was offered was not under the best circumstances. Do you agree?
It was sad to see Tati Phelan exit with two months left of his contract and over issues within the team. Although I did know some of the things that were happening, I was unaware that such a decision was in the making. I had a very good working relationship with him and we did speak before taking over his position. He has always been very good with me.
How hard was your first meeting with the team?
The European-based players had already been selected for a tour to England, Wales and Italy so I had to work with a squad and not with one I had selected. Having said this, I would have probably picked all the same players. We all knew there were issues that affected the way the team had performed and I met with the different leaders during the tour but what was new was that Los Pumas travelled with former captain José Santamarina to deal with players in non rugby related matters.
How bad were things?
I hope the low standard of some players was due to off-the-field circumstances of which I don’t want to play any role. Things were bad and affected the team. It was something that wasn’t easily noticed but after so many years as coach, you sense things, underlying issues. The more I look at the game against Wales (lost 40-6) I see that the first 30 minutes were very good, we attacked and broke their defence nine times; but something was not right and we couldn’t fix it at halftime and we then lost by a huge margin. We hit rock bottom. A week later we won which was very important, much more important than playing well.
Soon after you were confirmed as Pumas Head Coach until Rugby World Cup.
Yes. It was great news and it allows me and my staff to work towards 2015 and the Rugby World Cup.
Is there sufficient time to have a team ready for the biggest of rugby tournaments?
I believe there is. Not the ideal amount of time, but it is part of our reality. As long as we have a large percentage of our players based overseas, it will always be a problem — for the first test of the tour against England we only had our first training session on the Monday. We are trying to get more and more players to come back; if they are not playing for their European clubs, they will be better off playing here, within our system.
We have a good pool in RWC 2015 and the whole goal is to be a top four team in the world by RWC 2019.
That is a big goal.
It is. Hopefully, by the end of February we will be formally invited to have a team in Super Rugby from 2016 and that will give us constant competition and have a team to perform at the highest level under test rugby. With that, our big test schedule and the good work done in the High Performance Centres around the country, we will continue to produce better players and teams.
How will you select your best team?
As a coach you always have an idea of what team you want. We are in constant touch with players — those over here we see them every day and those overseas we speak with them and analyse their performances. In The Pumas you have to always select the best team — it doesn’t matter if it is a big name or a debutant, they all have to be the best for the team. One is as good as his last game. History will count for nothing and the good team will have to also prove himself also off the field.
How important is it that players are enjoying themselves?
It is crucial. Players and teams have to be happy, to enjoy themselves. And this has nothing to do with the fact that you might be professional or amateur. At the highest level, rugby requires to spend a lot of time together as a squad; either training, travelling or playing. I don’t expect everybody to be best of mates, but my teams have always sought to be tight and enjoy themselves. I believe that then evolves into good performances on the field. Argentine teams have always had that extra strength based on their closeness. We have to get that back.
Will you prioritize players based in Argentina?
We need to have a solid team to play Ireland twice and Scotland once in June. And for that, we will mostly select from the Pampas XV that will play in Australia a new championship over two months. This will make them match fit. Working with players individually or as units is crucial if we want to be competitive and regain some of the ground lost.
What do expect from the Pumas under your leadership?
I will expect them to be good ambassadors of the game; that they get closer to the fans. And on the field of play, that they can make us feel proud. If they play with passion and heart that will be a good starting point. Then we can add the technical stuff and in that sense, I like my teams to play with the ball and with continuity.