As the standard of the competition keeps growing, we will inevitably continue to see BSR players on the world stage, and one name to look out for is Loughborough University’s Mario Pichardie.
Despite only being 22, he already has a diverse rugby resume, and he reflects with TRU on his time playing university rugby, his experience captaining the Spanish national side and the future of rugby in his home nation.
Pichardie has featured in the majority of Loughborough University’s BUCS Super Rugby games this year, and despite his side being in third place after 11 games, the Spaniard believes there’s still more to come from them.
"The season has been very fun, but I think we have let ourselves down a bit with all the games we have lost recently [v Bath and Cardiff Met]. Some games we are clicking more than others, but the thing that is killing us is our penalties and our mistakes in the first part of the season.
"We were trying to chase the double (league and cup) this year, but now we are quite far away from Exeter [12 points]. We just need to secure second place so we can have a home semi-final, and that’s going to be massive for the club.
"I think we have a very strong squad that can fight and beat anyone on any day, but it is true that we are not being very consistent. We will win two games in a row, then lose one, win two games in a row, and then lose one again. I think we have to kind of reset and shift our focus to secure second place."
Loughborough have shown their quality on multiple occasions this season, with their impressive attacking abilities especially evident during their 95-8 drubbing of Swansea University - the biggest win in the competition’s history - but as Pichardie said, consistency is the name of the game, and the back-rower was full of praise for Exeter University who have won 10 out of their 11 games this season.
"With their backs this year, you can tell they’ve been in professional set-ups and most of them will be signed at Exeter Chiefs," he says.
"The hardest part when we played them I thought was the way they move the ball after contact. You would go and tackle the man but the ball would still be alive and I think that’s a massive strength and that’s how they’re scoring a lot of tries."
As we know, it isn’t just the boys at Exeter who are spending time in professional set-ups. Players throughout the competition have recently gained experience in the Premiership and United Rugby Championship, including Pichardie who enjoyed a stint at Wasps. However, the 22-year-old still believes the quality of BUCS Super Rugby is underrated.
"The standard of the league is very very high. To put it in perspective, there were a lot of coaches from France who came on a tour to Loughborough and they stayed to watch our home match vs Swansea. They all said that the standard is much higher than the Espoirs league, the U-22 France league in France.
"It (BSR) doesn’t get the credit it deserves. People think that we are uni students and we just like to go out, but it's not really like that here. There is a professional environment that we create within the club and the uni. I think all 10 teams create that professional environment.
"You try to achieve goals and set certain standards and maybe it doesn’t get enough credit from spectators or people who don’t really know how good the league is. Being able to get a degree and playing at these high standards, I think it’s going to be the peak of our sporting lives for some of us.”
"(At Loughborough) It's not one team, BSR is the whole club. It is the whole club that wins and the whole club that loses, and it is the environment that we create on a Wednesday night that we will keep for the rest of our lives."
It is clear the love Pichardie has for University Rugby, and he has achieved so much already in his time in the Midlands, including a BSR Championship last year. Outside of this, he has already been capped nine times by his country, Spain, and recently captained them against the USA.
"It was a very emotional day," reflects Pichardie on his first opportunity to lead his country. "It was good to be there, but it didn’t really affect me, I saw it as just another game.
El Capitán— Loughborough Students RFC (@LboroRugby) November 17, 2023
Buena suerte Mario!
Mario Pichardie captains Spain for the first time this weekend as they face USA!#UpTheBoro?? #LboroRugby #WhereHistoryBegins@LboroSport @BUCSSuperRugby pic.twitter.com/gL9fUuUVU9
"I’m very proud my opportunity came, and I know my role is going to be as one of the leaders and to promote standards that we want as a team to build and be in that next World Cup. Any opportunity to lead my country is amazing."
Spain had originally qualified for the 2023 World Cup, but World Rugby discovered they had fielded an ineligible player and Portugal took their spot in the competition.
This was undoubtedly a huge blow to Pichardie and the rest of his teammates, but he believes rugby in his home country is still in a good position.
"I think there is still a lot of trust in rugby in Spain and we have got a good federation that is working a lot. We are bringing a Sevens Series to Madrid this year, and we played Argentina in the Metropolitan (Atletico Madrid's Stadium) three months ago.
"So they have started being more advanced. Four years ago, it wasn’t even thinkable to do rugby in Spain. Hopefully next time we bring rugby to Spain the stadiums will be full and more events will be created by World Rugby - this is the main goal."
Further cause for excitement for Los Leones is their recent appointment of new head coach, Pablo Bouza. The Argentinian has had successful coaching experiences with the national teams of both his home country and Uruguay, and his main goal is to guide Spain to the next World Cup.
"We had a chance to speak to him when we played Canada and he looks like a coach that will bring good standards and professionalism to our team," adds Pichardie. "With the help of the coaches we already have, I think we’re gonna be in a really good position to fight for qualification for 2027."
Bouza and his Spain squad will be looking to have a successful Rugby Europe Championship, and Pichardie says the young squad will set their sights on the final in Paris early next year.
Spanish rugby has many talented players in their ranks, many of whom are showcasing their ability in the ProD2, France’s hugely entertaining second division. As Pichardie enters his last year of university, he looks towards what the future holds for his rugby career.
"Obviously with the opportunity Loughborough has given me, it opens a lot of doors in the future but obviously there’s still a chance for me to go to France if I can get a contract there, or maybe a National One team.
"I have an agent and there are a couple of clubs (ProD2) that are interested in me, but it is too early in the season for signings so we will see in March."
No matter where he ends up next year, it is clear that Pichardie is an ambitious and talented player and has a bright future for his national team ahead of him. He is definitely a player to watch and another great example of the quality BUCS Super Rugby is producing.
Week 11 saw Loughborough University once again plagued by the inconsistency Pichardie spoke of. The African Violet led Bath University 17-5 at half-time but failed to score any points in the second 40 whilst also conceding 26 points and eventually losing 31-17.
Exeter University bounced back from their first defeat of the campaign to inflict more misery on Nottingham University. The Devonian institution put on an impressive attacking display to defeat their visitors 50-24 and they head into the Christmas break 10 points clear at the top of the table.
Durham University continued their unbeaten home streak as they beat an in-form Leeds Beckett University side 24-10, a result that took the hosts to second place.
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The second 'Cardiff Clash' of the season proved to be a dramatic affair once again with the two sides not giving each other an inch at Arms Park. Two late tries from Cardiff Met University secured them a memorable 34-37 win against Cardiff University
Hartpury delivered another impressive performance as they dismantled a struggling Swansea University side to win 59-17 and move into sixth place with a game in hand.
Exeter University entered Round 12 of the WNL feeling confident after an emphatic victory over Cardiff. In their latest fixture, they put in an equally impressive display to defeat Loughborough University 45-27.
Last year’s champions Hartpury University haven’t lost a WNL match since the second gameweek, and they were in no mood to end that run as they travelled up to the Scottish capital and came away with five points (45-12) against Edinburgh University.
The 'Cardiff Clash' was also littered with tries, but it was Cardiff Met University who were responsible for the majority of them as they defeated Cardiff University 41-14 to complete the double over their neighbours.