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'It's not a surprise because I've seen how much work those boys put in'

Irishman Dean Lester was part of Uruguay’s S&C team in their preparation for the World Cup.

AS URUGUAY MADE World Cup history with their shock win over Fiji in Japan today, Dean Lester watched on from Belfast with tears of joy streaming down his face.

The rugby world has been united in its delight at seeing the minnows earn their third-ever World Cup victory in Kamaishi, but Lester has every right to feel pride in the Uruguayans’ success.

The 36-year-old spent nine months living in Uruguay as part of their strength and conditioning team this year, helping them to build the fitness levels that shone as they rocked the World Cup today.

japan-rugby-wcup-fiji-uruguay Uruguay pulled off a huge shock victory over Fiji. Source: AP/PA Images

While he didn’t travel to Japan with the squad, Lester has undoubtedly played a role in helping Los Teros towards what was perhaps the greatest shock result at a World Cup. 

“I have pride in the boys, not myself,” said Lester today after Uruguay’s win.

“You could say it was a surprise because Fiji are a massive side and so athletic. But it’s not a surprise at the same time because I’ve seen over the nine months how much work those boys put in.

“They always stepped up, they never took a backwards step and we saw that today. They were relentless in their defence. That’s something we had worked on, we knew we needed to close the space down and have the fitness levels.

“They were incredible, the emotion and the heart they put into it and the pride for their country. I’ve never come across anything like it in my life, they’re an incredible group of people, Uruguayans as a whole.

“You heard the crowd, there was only a pocket of them in the ground but they were pretty loud.”

Lester’s phone hasn’t stopped rumbling with messages all day and he was speaking to the squad immediately after their win via a video call, meaning he could enjoy the scenes in the changing room as the players shouted “Dean machine” and celebrated their success.

Lester is a student at Setanta College in Ireland and the opportunity with Uruguay came about through the Tipperary institution.

japan-rugby-wcup-fiji-uruguay Uruguay's fitness stood out in the win over Fiji. Source: ëÂó¢íºñÁ

Founder Dr. Liam Hennessy and Setanta man Mark Murray let Lester know that Los Teros were looking for an S&C coach to take up a nine-month internship. Moving to Uruguay was tough to get his head around but after getting that call, Lester went into his living room, where his fianceé and mother were encouraging.

“They both said at the same time, ‘You have to go for it.’”

So Lester spoke to Uruguay’s head of S&C Craig White – formerly of the Lions, Wasps and Leicester – and agreed to take a leap into the unknown. He first met up with Uruguay for three days last October when they visited Belfast to play Ulster. 

Lester and his fianceé, Linsey, then moved out to Uruguay in January and he got stuck into his new role, while she worked in a school.

And Lester swiftly became part of what he describes as an amazing group of people.

“I came home in September because my father passed away. He had been ill and the Uruguay rugby union flew me home to see him. 

“I was determined to go back out because I wanted to see this job through. The response I got from the players, they made me feel like part of their family. That’s them, and it shone today in that performance. That was 23 brothers out there fighting for every inch they could get.”

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japan-rugby-wcup-fiji-uruguay Uruguay celebrate their stunning win. Source: AP/PA Images

Uruguay lost that fixture 21-0 to a very inexperienced Ulster team back in October, but they have improved rapidly since. They finished second in this year’s Americas Rugby Championship, beating USA and Canada in a good campaign before recording wins over Russia and Argentina XV in the World Rugby Nations Cup in June. 

The Uruguayans then had a 10-week pre-season for the World Cup, with the players gathering for training from 8am until 4.30pm most days and putting in a serious effort to get into peak condition.

“You have your standard lifting that any team will do but there was a lot of high intensity running, really building on that and the volume of it,” explains Lester, who ran the squad’s GPS tracking.

“We really wanted to focus on that rush defence and being able to do it repeatedly because we knew we would have to defend a lot at the World Cup.

“There was a lot of high-intensity capacity work where the boys were pushing heavy prowlers up and down to the point they were almost collapsing. There were the four or five S&C coaches dragging them through it but they never once gave up. They never once complained, they just got on with their work.”

Another Ireland native and Setanta College man, Simon Coulter, joined the Uruguayans along with the highly-regarded S&C specialist Ben Pollard – who World Rugby sent to aid their cause – as they beefed up their backroom for the pre-season.

Lester said they built a brilliant atmosphere through that slog.

“When you have a group where everyone gets on and there are no egos, it makes a hell of a difference,” said Lester, who will soon move into the Master’s degree at Setanta. 

“The players are just normal guys, no superstars and everyone knows they have to go out there and work hard.”

WhatsApp Image 2019-09-25 at 21.49.03 Lester with Uruguay prop Juan Pedro Rombys.

Making Uruguay’s achievement all the greater is the fact that many of them are amateur players. Los Teros do have players in the French professional leagues and Major League Rugby, but others play their club rugby back home in Uruguay.

In that sense, Lester delighted in seeing the likes of replacement prop Juan Pedro Rombys making an impact on the biggest stage.

“I have a bit of a soft spot for the big man because I did a lot of one-on-one work with him when he was injured,” said Lester, who is now hoping to pick up an S&C job with a professional club.

“The commentators mentioned how he had given everything up. He hadn’t played international rugby since 2012 or 2013 and he has been working in agriculture back in Uruguay.

“He basically gave that up to give rugby another shot. He had a lot of work to do but it showed, he was fantastic when he came on. He carried ball, steadied the scrum, even tried a wee offload! He showed what he was about.

“To give his job up, it’s incredible and it wasn’t easy for any of the players. There are other players in the squad who had to give up their jobs to be part of it.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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