Francisco Isaac reports on a proud day for his countrymen in Bucharest
Portugal qualified for this year’s World Rugby U20 Trophy tournament in Uruguay after a tremendous triumph at the European Championship, organised by Rugby Europe.
It was a hard-fought 12-7 final victory over the Lions of Spain that clinched Portugal’s place in the eight-team Trophy event – the second division of the U20 World Cup – that takes place in Montevideo from 29 August to 10 September.
Bucharest’s Arcul de Triumf was the setting for the U20 European Championship that concluded last weekend, with Portugal, Spain, Romania, Russia, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands and Belgium vying for the title.
The Iberian neighbours emerged from a two-round knockout format to reach the final, with Portugal defeating Netherlands 42-5 and hosts Romania 21-16 while the Spaniards saw off Switzerland 36-13 and Russia 37-19.
Portugal benefited from the services of three players from the country’s senior side, with Vasco Ribeiro, Manuel Picão and Nuno Mascarenhas all making their mark. Centre Ribeiro was one of the best players in the tournament, averaging an impressive 13 tackles and 11 carries per game.
The breathtaking try by Manuel Cardoso Pinto against Romania was voted the best of the tournament – watch it below.
Spain’s greatest strength lay up front, where they possessed a powerful scrum and maul, and it helped bring them a remarkable win at the semi-final stage against much-fancied Russia.
No 8 Gabriel Velez and, in particular, outside-centre Iñaki Mateu are set to have golden futures.
Inside-centre José Luís Cabral’s try, converted by Jorge Abecassis, gave Portugal the perfect start in the final and his midfield partnership with Ribeiro was to the fore as Os Lobos gained the ascendency. The two later shared the Player of the Tournament accolade.
Even though Spain levelled matters just after the hour when Ignacio Herrero touched down for a try that Mateu converted, Portugal were not to be denied and took the title with a late try by wing Gonçalo Santos – to the dismay of the Spanish supporters.
“This is one of the best Portuguese generations in recent years,” said Luís Pissarra, the former Portugal captain who coaches the U20s. “Romania and Spain were hard adversaries but we fought as a team, gave 100% and got the championship.
“The players love the game, they study hard, they like to learn and grow stronger each week. It’s easy to coach when you have teams like this.”
Portugal join hosts Uruguay, Japan, Namibia, Hong Kong, Fiji and Chile in the U20 Trophy line-up, with one spot still to be filled – USA and Canada have a two-leg play-off in June.
“We have to rest and restart all the processes again,” said Pissarra. “They deserve some time off but after that we will have to train even harder. With suitable and good conditions we can build a strong squad.”
In other matches, Netherlands inflicted relegation on Switzerland (30-0), Belgium surprised Germany 30-14 and Russia pushed Romania out of the podium places (33-5) in a match that brought a hat-trick for their second-row Ruslan Bazhenov.
It was a disappointing campaign for the home nation, who lacked creativity and speed and began to make errors when frustration kicked in.
Portugal made an impressive statement to the other European nations, but what other conclusions did Rugby World draw from the tournament?
- The steaming of live games enabled fans around Europe to follow the competition – a great service. You can still watch all games in replay mode, sponsored by Rugby Europe TV.
- Romania and Russia had a wake-up call. Their physicality didn’t mean dominance as both nations had problems in the scrum and maul.
- Netherlands and Belgium want to play a quick and dynamic game. But both countries, along with Germany, still have a long way to go as their youngsters lack the capability to stand up against more experienced teams.
Rugby Europe U20 Championship results
Spain 36-13 Switzerland
Portugal 42-5 Netherlands
Russia 47-10 Germany
Romania 28-22 Belgium
Semi-finals: Romania 16-21 Portugal
Semi-finals: Spain 37-19 Russia
Switzerland 24-41 Germany
Belgium 30-30 Netherlands (Belgium won 5-4 in penalty shootout)
Final: Spain 7-12 Portugal
Third place: Russia 33-5 Romania
Fifth place: Germany 14-30 Belgium
Seventh place: Switzerland 0-30 Netherlands
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