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Portuguese rugby heroes slam relegation decision after semi-final brawl

Two of Portugal’s premier club sides were left reeling on Friday.

In the wake of on-pitch fights that spilled over into the crowd during Agronomia and Direito’s National Championship semi-final in April, the Portuguese Rugby Federation’s Disciplinary Council have decreed that both sides will be relegated to the nation’s third and lowest tier.

The move meant that Belenenses, who triumphed in the other semi-final, are crowned champions.

The sides are challenging the ruling, which has been supported by the FPR’s bosses. However, it has also been suggested that some players from the relegated sides will not compete for the Portuguese national side in the vital World Cup qualifying match against Germany if the decision is upheld.

It is already an uncomfortable time for the Portuguese union, with match officials striking over pay. An emergency official was needed to oversee the Agronomia-Direito semi-final.

Fine servant: Pedro Leal scores for Portugal on the Sevens World Series

“I was in the game, playing 15 for Direito,” says 76-cap full-back and sevens hero Pedro Leal. “To be honest, I don’t think what happened is the same as what (FPR) are saying. It’s not good news for Portuguese rugby. I hope this doesn’t go forward because it’s a shame for the Portuguese league and the union.

“The biggest problem is that we played a semi-final of a championship without a referee. That’s already a bad start. Then some fight happens during the game, but that’s part of rugby. The biggest problem is then that some spectators are fighting – I didn’t see that because I was playing. But that can happen. I think it was the first time in Portugal, but I think after the game everything was fine.

“If it goes forward, (the punishment) is really extreme. I hope it’s not going forward because it would be a real shame for Portuguese rugby.”

However, there are those in Portugal who believe the ruling should be upheld as this is the first time such an incident has dominated national discussion – it led the news on public channels – and it forced the federation to take drastic measures in order to save face. One prominent figure in the game in Portugal told Rugby World: “This is the first time in Portuguese rugby we have seen a link between action and consequence, regardless of who the club is or whether the players were internationals or not.”

While Leal was playing for Direito, former Portugal centre and ex-national coach Frederico Sousa was on the touchline for Agronomia.

Experienced head: Frederico Sousa also coached Lusitanos XV in Europe’s second tier

“I think the board didn’t think wisely about the consequences,” Sousa tells Rugby World. “It’s the two biggest clubs in Portugal. I’m not saying that if the two biggest clubs behave badly there should be no punishment. But during the game neither club appealed. After the match there was a corridor (to clap players off). The teams went to the clubhouse together; everything was fine.

“I coached the national team and I’ve coached Direito previously. The atmosphere between the two clubs is great. You know, rugby is a physical game. There’s a big blame for the union. Even last season was not peaceful because of the calendar – we were waiting for the semi-finals for two months. I don’t know any league that goes to the play-offs and then there’s a wait for two months.

“Then there’s the (issue) now with the referees. It was not the conditions for a good atmosphere with everyone.”

Related: Russia replace Romania at Rugby World Cup

It has been a season for tumult in mainland Europe. At the conclusion of the European Rugby Championship, a match between Spain and Belgium descended into ugly scenes.

Later, both sides, as well as Romania, copped heavy points deductions for fielding ineligible players, meaning neither Spain or Romania had any chance of making the World Cup. Appeals from both sides have been lodged.