Sides from Wales, England and USA were among the winners at the 2018 Portugal Rugby Youth Festival in Lisbon, a tournament that continues to go from strength to strength
Record numbers and smiles all round at the 2018 Portugal Rugby Youth Festival
Europe’s largest Rugby Youth Festival celebrated its tenth anniversary with a record entry of 90 teams, including 35 from overseas. Welsh invitational side Crawshays were victors in the U19 competition and Stockport in the u15s, beating Bristol RFC in a closely contested final.
Women’s teams competed for the first time in two age categories, with County Wicklow’s Greystones taking a squad of 50. The impressive Institute of Sport from California were crowned U19 champions.
Based at Estadio Universitario in the centre of Lisbon, the tournament on 7-8 April brought together the best young Portuguese teams with clubs from across the world. For the southern hemisphere teams, it represents an ideal pre-season work out as Dave Kirkman, head coach of Zimbabwe’s Peterhouse Boys, explains.
“We have chosen this tournament on account of its timing and the quality and variety of the opposition,” says Kirkman, a former Zimbabwe back-row. “It’s only by testing ourselves that we can improve, and what better way than facing top sides from Australia, England, Wales and South Africa.
“The festival also provides a memorable experience, the opportunity to play on an international stage and a great way for the boys to sharpen up and bond ahead of the season. Schools rugby in Zimbabwe is strong, as we proved by remaining unbeaten in all five matches.”
Last year’s tournament played host to 70 teams, with around 20 from overseas. Adding a women’s competition and increasing the international content is the latest evolution for organiser and former Portugal international Antonio Cunha.
“Our objective, apart from putting on the very best youth rugby festival in Europe, is to increase the quality of competition year on year,” he says. “For boys and girls of all ages this is a wonderful opportunity to play rugby on an international stage, enjoy different cultures and gain life experiences. As organisers our reputation is growing; we are attracting more interest and more sponsors, which is very good news for the future.”
Judging by the number of Portuguese teams reaching the finals, youth rugby in the country is in fine health. Leading by example at U19 level were CR Tecnico from Lisbon, who narrowly lost to Crawshays in a hard-fought final, having beaten Myerscough College in the semis. Myerscough College Academy is the accredited RFU Elite Player Development Centre for the north-west of England.
“Youth rugby here is in good shape,” continues Cunha. “Delivering the best young talent from overseas to Lisbon is the best way to strengthen the domestic teams. The demand to participate is such that this year, for the first time, a qualifying set-up for Portuguese teams was introduced.”
Hannah Harper, chief coach of Institute of Sport, a girls’ rugby academy based in San Diego, is already preparing to return next year, possibly in more than one category.
“We can find plenty of sevens tournaments across the US to test our girls but no 15-a-side. We chose the Portugal Rugby Youth Festival because of its reputation and we knew it would provide a true test of our abilities. We brought over a squad of 26 girls, some of whom have only played rugby for one season. It has been a very worthwhile experience.”
Other notable English clubs attending this year included Falmouth, Kesteven, Oxford and Wasps Academy, with Ireland represented by Ballinrobe, Navan, Old Crescent and Seapoint.
Next year’s tournament will take place on 13/14 April. To register interest contact firstname.lastname@example.org.