Bristol and Crawshays Youth were among the winners at the biggest rugby event in the Iberian Peninsula. Francisco Isaac reports on the thrills and spills from Lisbon
Hello, hola, olá, bonjour – this is the Rugby Youth Festival. About 2,000 players representing 80 teams met in Lisbon last weekend to play 300 matches in a tournament organised by Move Sports, a sports operator and event manager. Between players, staff, families and friends, the two-day competition attracted 18,000 spectators yet rugby wasn’t the biggest part of the weekend… what was, you might ask?
The exchange of information, experience and contacts between players from different parts of the globe. As usual the UK attended in force, with entrants including Crawshays Youth RFC (‘home’ for the likes of Dan Lydiate and Luke Charteris), Bristol Rugby and Myerscough College. The UK colleges and rugby academies are among the festival’s greatest enthusiasts, as in the past eight editions there have been more than six teams annually from Great Britain and Ireland.
For Portugal, this festival is a very big deal, especially as rugby is still a relatively minor sport and almost exclusively amateur. It’s one of those rare opportunities for Portuguese teams to feel the pulse of international rugby, offering young players a platform to show their repertoire of skills. For the coaches it’s a moment to fine-tune their squads for the last throes of the rugby season.
The international dimension is what makes the weekend so special. For example, in the U17 category, you could see VRAC from Spain, Lancashire’s Myerscough College and Dublin’s Liberty Saints facing Portuguese teams like GD Direito (whose senior squad played in this season’s Challenge Cup play-offs), CF OsBelenenses, CDUL or Agronomia.
As for the staff members, this is a massive challenge because they have to prepare their players to face the best (and biggest) opposition they will face all year.
And the organisation of the biggest rugby event in the Iberian Peninsula got a big thumbs-up, Henley College coach Pete Glackin expressing the satisfaction of many when he said: “It was an amazing day. This was our second time here; last year we won the Silver Cup, and today was a top day. Competition was good between teams, we had to play our best to top them.”
Each team was placed in a group on the first day, with the teams separated into U13, U15, U17 and U19 categories. The U13s played ten-a-side; the U15s played 13-a-side (no flankers); and the U17s and U19s played the full 15-a-side. On the Saturday games were 20 minutes in duration before longer matches for the finals on the Sunday.
All eight fields of Estádio Universitário de Lisboa were reserved only for rugby, kicking football teams out for two full days. After the first day, we knew who was here to not only participate but to win the main cup.
The tournament had a special guest, as former All Black Xavier Rush came to Portugal in his capacity as co-coach of Crawshays.
In the U13 group, CF OsBelenenses, one of Portugal’s oldest rugby clubs, took home the main trophy after beating AIS Agronomia (2-1).
Bristol took the U15 championship with a narrow (14-10) win against CDUL, who gained solace by bagging the U17 title against GDS Cascais (8-3) in a thrilling game played in heavy rain. The weather certainly didn’t ‘play ball’ over the weekend.
As for the grand champions, hats off to Crawshays Youth, who defeated Myerscough College 31-0 to take the main honour. Crawshays centre Ellis Jones was rated Most Valuable Player for the U19 group, with Leo Wallaert (Belenenses) taking the U13 award, Bristol’s Ethan Gaynor the U15 award, and Diogo Cardoso of CDUL the U17 award.
During a tough time for Portuguese rugby, with the senior squad having just been relegated to the third division of European rugby, the Rugby Youth Festival gave the host country a timely tonic. Here again was the spirit that so impressed the world back at RWC 2007, and the only hope now is that more countries can take part – the French, Italian and Pacific teams that came last year were missed.