Portuguese writer Francisco Isaac has his say
Portugal clawed their way back to life after an almost one-sided contest in the first half against Georgia and collected their first two points in the Rugby World Cup 2023.
The Lobos delivered a stunning second half and pulled their best tricks to catch the Lelos off-guard, with Raffaele Storti, Jerónimo Portela, Pedro Bettencourt, José Madeira, and Nicolás Martins shining bright.
After losing against Wales by only a 20-point margin, and clinching a draw in their second game of the World Cup, the question has to be asked: do they have what it takes to commit the biggest upset in World Cup history? Can Portugal beat the Wallabies?
What can help Portugal beat the Wallabies
Looking back to what they’ve managed to accomplish over the past four years, the resounding growth shown in the World Cup, and the desire and passion injected at any new match… Yes, there’s a (real) chance for their fans to believe in a win.
But are there any facts that can support the idea of a Portuguese upset? Portugal has a superior average in terms of squad caps and age. We have seen how crucial it is to have more seasoned units around a young team, mainly in those critical and match-changing moments. While the Lobos have Francisco Fernandes, Mike Tadjer, Tomás Appleton, Samuel Marques, José Lima, and others, the Wallabies cannot match them for cohesion.
This can sound a bit boring, but if you replay last weekend’s matches, it is noticeable how the ‘old guard’ kept Portugal together, especially when Georgia was dominating. The lack of veterans on the Australian team pushed them to a free-all with no one able to piece the Wallabies back together. Portugal has a total of 857 caps and an age average of 27, while Australia have 691 and an average age of 25.
Okay, but numbers don’t win games. How can an emerging nation like Portugal – who have never defeated a Tier One side but came close against Japan and Italy in 2021 and 2022 – feel even slightly confident that they can do it on Sunday?
Because of the way Portugal plays. The Lobos have created some of the biggest moments in the 2023 Rugby World Cup, and mostly come out of the way they quickly go for a swift counter, applying a high tempo and speed. The Portuguese side has already forced sixteen turnovers, and five lineout steals, which led to tries and points.
The Wallabies only managed fourteen turnovers throughout three games and conceded almost twenty, the double what has happened with Portugal.
Portuguese issues needing addressed
The biggest if for Sunday’s match in Saint-Étienne is: who will dominate come scrum or lineout time? The Wallabies have suffered some setbacks in the scrum, only excelling in it against Georgia until half-time, and their lineout has achieved little even against Fiji and was outclassed versus Wales. On the other hand, Portugal conceded a total of 19 points following collapsed scrums and has only secured 75% of their feeding, an issue that hindered their offensive game plan.
Lobos captain Tomás Appleton addressed that problem in his latest interview, saying: “We have already analysed our game against Georgia, and more than 50% of our set-piece is not providing a stable platform to our backline. For us, it is a huge issue, as we depend on it to go wide or create gaps in the 1st and 2nd channel, before trying to risk a wider pass.”
Finally, the physicality will play a major role in the match flow. The Lobos have shocked everyone with their ability to challenge any side, and that will be vital to block the Wallabies more powerful units, like Samu Kerevi, Rob Valentini or Rory Arnold.
The wolfpack seems to be more in tune in the nuclear areas of the game, have little to nothing to lose, and are running with more positive momentum, while the Wallabies are running with their worst year of all time (seven defeats out of eight games), and the impending failure qualify for the World Cup’s knockout stages for the very first time might pinch their morale.
Portugal might not be the favourites to scrape a victory, but they are the underwolves for Sunday, and if Australia doesn’t find their mojo and focus from the very start, then Portugal can go on a successful Wallabies hunt.
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