A teenager from Argentina was able to experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity after she walked out as one of Land Rover’s Rugby World Cup 2015 official mascots at her country’s opening game of the tournament thanks to Premiership Rugby’s HITZ Programme.
Lourdes Schillaci won a competition run by Land Rover, in her native country as part of the HITZ Argentina scheme, which sees coaches introduce rugby to 12,500 children each year in the Buenos Aires area.
The 13-year-old was given the opportunity to walk out in front of 90,000 rugby fans, alongside Pumas captain Agustín Creevy before the 26-16 defeat to New Zealand at Wembley on Sunday. To make the experience even more special, Land Rover organised for Lourdes and her mother to spend five days in London over the opening weekend of Rugby World Cup 2015.
"It was amazing, the whole trip has been the most amazing adventure," Lourdes said.
"It was amazing to walk out in front of all those fans. Just being in the empty stadium made you feel so small and once all the fans were there, I couldn’t believe how loud it was.
"I absolutely loved it and the day was rounded off in the evening when I went out for dinner with the lovely people from Land Rover.
"I have also had the chance to see a lot of London which I loved. It is an amazing city."
Lourdes won the right to be an official mascot when 120 youngsters from the HITZ Argentina programme were asked to either give a team talk to the national side, sing the national anthem or leave a message of advice for the captain.
Lourdes opted to record a message for Creevy which proved too good to overlook and she was informed she would be heading to the English capital by Argentinean rugby legend Felipe Contepomi in front of all her friends at San Pedro Claver School.
It was the first time Lourdes had left Argentina and the trip to Wembley was one of many new experiences for the teenager, as she enjoyed an open-top bus tour of London, visited an aquarium and took part in a Land Rover Experience Day where she was reacquainted with Land Rover ambassador Felipe Contepomi, as a final added surprise.
HITZ Argentina was launched in October 2014 and is a partnership between Premiership Rugby, Land Rover and the British Council.
Three coaches work in schools and rugby clubs in the Buenos Aires region to raise the aspirations of disadvantaged children and young people and use rugby to give young people personal, life and employability skills and the education to fulfil their potential.
Helen Clayton, HITZ project manager, said: "The HITZ Argentina project has been a real success. We are now in more schools and more areas than we had originally hoped as we have moved south of Buenos Aires.
"We are not only teaching youngster the game of rugby but also the values of the sport.
"We are also attempting to try to keep more youngsters in schools as that is a big issue in Argentina.
"It was an emotional day for Lourdes and it was one which really showed how HITZ are giving children new opportunities.
"It was amazing seeing her on the pitch and they had a big screen back at her school so all of the other children could see her.
"I know this is a unique example but the programme really does give great opportunities and raises the aspirations of all the young people on the programme."