Teams from England, Australia, Ireland and Portugal all triumphed at the age-grade festival in Lisbon. Martin Allerton reports
Worldwide winners at Portugal Rugby Youth Festival
This year’s Portugal Rugby Youth Festival reached new heights with record crowds, 3,000 players representing 115 teams from five continents and the attendance of Portuguese prime minister António Costa as well as World Cup winner Lewis Moody, the 2019 tournament ambassador, courtesy of main sponsors Dove.
With ten pitches in use throughout, it was two days of frenetic action at the Estadio Universitario De Lisboa with boys competing at U13, U15, U17 and U19 levels and girls at U15 and U19.
U19 boys is the blue-riband event of the largest youth rugby festival in Europe and this year the competition was formidable with strong entries from Australia, England, France, Wales and the USA.
Fast, attractive, flowing rugby featured throughout and the final was an all-English affair with Myerscough College emerging 13-0 winners o a closely-contested match against Truro College.
Myerscough College coach Matt Garrod said: “We enjoy this tournament, the competition and the first-class organisation and have been supporting it for many years. Coming here to Lisbon is a reward for our lads who have worked hard throughout a long tough season, which started back in August.”
Steve Larkins, Rugby Academy Leader for Truro College, could see the positives in defeat: “Of course we wanted to win but I’ve told our boys that they can be very proud of themselves.
“They played good rugby throughout and came very close. When you consider that most are only 17, that’s a pretty good achievement. This trip has been a great experience for them, on and off the field and we look forward to returning.”
The U19 girls’ section was won by Australian team Melbourne Kangaroos as they beat Portuguese select side Lobinhas 15-14 with the final play of the match.
At U17 level, Irish team Tullow RFC were the deserved winners, not even conceding a point across six games and scoring 105. They beat local champions CDUL 7-0 in the final.
In the U15 boys’ section, Blackheath were the cream of the crop and deserved winners, beating Cascais 5-0 in the final, whilst Portuguese team Lusitanas won the U15 girls’ title, beating USA Schools 12-5.
The U13 category was arguably the most competitive of the entire tournament, with 32 teams involved. The final was played out between two Portuguese teams, Agronomia beating Direito 15-10, showcasing the quality of youth rugby in Portugal in the face of strong opposition from England, Ireland, Scotland and Spain.
Indeed, over the weekend the host sides were competitive in all age groups, which bodes well, particularly in light of the recently agreed initiative with Premiership Rugby to support the development of the game in Portugal.
Much to the gratitude of the Portuguese coaches, George Tavner, assistant academy manager and coach development lead at Bath, and RFU coach development officer Andrew Webb were on hand throughout the festival to lend their support.
Next year’s Portugal Rugby Youth Festival takes place over the weekend of 4-5 April 2020 and bookings are now being taken. Visit www.portugalrugbyfestival.com for more details.
For Worcester coach Jon Dear the weekend exceeded expectations. He said: “As coaches and parents our role is to give our youngsters a life-long love of rugby. The Portugal Youth Rugby Festival goes a long way to achieving that objective.
“It amplifies all that is good about rugby. Brilliant fun, extremely well organised, great standard of play and overall just a fantastic experience for the players. I had to pinch myself at times; I looked round and there’s a girls’ team from Italy playing an American side and on a separate pitch Australian boys against a quality Portuguese side. At the bars you see teams from Sweden next to Belgians, French, Spanish, Qatar and New Zealand.
“What more could you want from a tour? Everything was just brilliant from start to finish and we will definitely be back. I’d encourage every team to think about participating at least once. You’ll not regret it.
“For the organisation to have the Portuguese prime minister attend says a lot about the growing popularity of rugby in Portugal.”
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