A draw against USA is enough to send Os Lobos through to France 2023
Portugal qualify for Rugby World Cup
Portugal are through to Rugby World Cup 2023 after earning a 16-16 draw with the USA in the Final Qualification Tournament in Dubai.
Due to their superior points difference in the table the draw was enough to see Os Lobos make it to a second Rugby World Cup. And it was earnt with a last-gasp Samuel Marques kick.
Portugal go into Pool C at RWC 2023, alongside Wales, Australia, Fiji and Georgia.
Want to know more about the Portuguese journey? In the current issue of Rugby World magazine – in shops now – the below feature details what Os Lobos have been through as they targeted the World Cup.
The Wolves at the door – the journey to Portugal qualifying for Rugby World Cup
THE DREAM had slipped away. Against their Iberian rivals, the Portuguese team were outplayed. In front of an ecstatic Madrid crowd, Os Lobos (The Wolves) saw their ticket to Rugby World Cup 2023 in France ripped up before their very eyes.
In the aftermath, head coach Patrice Lagisquet felt the need to apologise to his charges. With the ultimate prize on the line, the former France wing, known to many as the ‘Bayonne Express’, felt he hadn’t offered the right energy to his players in the build-up. A dear friend of his had passed away suddenly the week before and Lagisquet felt utterly battered by it.
The one-time les Bleus assistant also had a head full of ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ about the other games Portugal played in the Rugby Europe Championship competition that doubled as World Cup spot deciders. A forfeited Russian fixture only gave them four points rather than five, sure. But if he’d just thought about the bigger picture and a bonus point here, a different effort there, he agonised, perhaps it wouldn’t have come down to a shootout with Spain in their own backyard. “I felt guilty,” the coach says of the fallout.
But as we know by now, Spain’s World Cup qualification party fell into fiasco after it came to light they had fielded an ineligible player, Gavin van den Berg, in matches against the Netherlands. Los Leones were promptly booted out, with Romania taking their place in Pool B, and Portugal got their second chance.
Now it’s all about a Final Qualification Tournament (FQT). And amidst planning for Os Lobos’ trip to Dubai for it, Rugby World discusses what could be with two key figures in the Portuguese game – Lagisquet and Luís Pissarra, national assistant and coach of the Lusitanos side, a European Super Cup outfit that is populated by Portugal players.
But first of all, is there a Portuguese way of approaching the game? Because ask anyone outside the camp and they’ll talk about adventurous runners and backs cutting lines, with turnover ball a breakout opportunity, but up front, the tradition might not be there…
According to Lagisquet: “There is a strong identity. We’ve shown it in the last three years, improving a lot and being competitive against Italy, against Georgia, even against an Argentina XV or against Japan last November. We must keep our identity, our strengths.
“We were just missing one strong right prop (tighthead) to have enough strength in those games and if we have all our best players – which I think we will for the tournament in Dubai – I think in the forwards we can compete with the strong nations.
“I just want my team to understand they can do it now. We try to change this mentality because it was not a strength of Portuguese rugby and our players must be conscious that it can become a strength also, playing with our forwards.
“If you can resist in scrums and mauls against a team like Georgia, you must be ready to compete against Hong Kong, Kenya and the United States.
“We don’t want to lose our identity with the fast rugby, with backs going on the attack, winning turnovers. But the forwards must be conscious now that they can compete at the best level. We have a strong pack and physically we are strong enough to compete during the tournament in Dubai.”
Competing in Dubai is enormous. According to Pissarra, when a new board swept into the union, the buzz grew about the World Cup. So Lagisquet came in and while qualified players from France were courted and won over, the big job was trying to professionalise training for an amateur player base. A large part of this, both coaches say, is about changing mindsets, nationally.
“It’s a big effort from a group really searching for something,” Pissarra says of the preparations for Dubai. It’s not like there is a pot of gold for everyone to dip their hands into. Pissarra adds: “We really need to achieve this so we can try to progress in the future. It’s unfortunate for the Spanish guys, because they did us on the field, but
we need to take this opportunity.”
There has been some friction in the country over the pull in this direction. Some pooh-poohed plans to have amateurs training flat out for it as folly; some thought national team members playing for Lusitanos and then doing all that was madness.
But the lack of money is felt and Pissarra says qualification would offer the bonus of dedicated, proud Portuguese players getting a bit more support. Not just in terms of money but also their employers giving them a bit more leeway – even just understanding them better, seeing the dream up close.
“We’re getting some weight in the forwards from our French-born players, but we still lack depth. We have a good starting team but the depth, we do not have the same physicality. In terms of defence and tackling, we’re quite intense. It’s not about that. Some of the issue is about weight and having the same physical quality all game.
“Our last game with Spain was probably our worst game in years! We didn’t play well, we didn’t attack well, it was our worst game in terms of defence… And yet you look at the game, with a bit of luck we could have won.
“Consistency is what we’ve been working on in our camp. Sometimes you need to go faster than you are or you can – so one thing that has helped us with this is the Lusitanos. That gives us more intensity, more big games to the players, more tight games to help us develop. So we then have a bigger number of players able to play at a higher level.”
The good thing, as Pissarra sees it, is that young guys are having to learn and learn fast. In this run-and-gun back-line it’s a bit easier, but up front they are blooding kids against much more experienced players.
The strong link with France means there are also exciting young talents with an opportunity to head over. Already there is wing Raffaele Storti, who has scorched the ProD2 for Béziers. Rodrigo Marta has a bright future ahead and is running in tries for Dax in the Nationale league. Pedro Bettencourt is with Oyonnax and 23-year-old wing Vincent Pinto is with Pau (though game time has been hard to come by lately for him).
Add in the veterans like hooker Mike Tadjer at Perpignan and scrum-half Samuel Marquès at Carcassonne, plus the France-raised lads, and the French game has played its part.
Lagisquet name-checks Marta, Storti and fly-half Jerónimo Portela as not only the future but players who are thrilling now. Full-backs Nuno Sousa Guedes, 27, and Manuel Cardoso Pinto, 24, are not exactly past it and they each have some magic. Then they have some back-rowers who are willing to create.
Winning this way would be great for the country, Lagisquet says. He likens it to Toulouse, saying: “Even if it’s modern rugby they play, it’s also that they have their culture of rugby back. When you have an identity, you must keep it, even if you must develop other strengths.
“For me, it’s impossible to have weaknesses in the scrum, in the mauls. Because it’s too important, to be efficient. You must keep that, that identity and I think we will have more and more fans if it is that way. And I know that even in France, a lot of people are watching Portuguese rugby and they like the way we try to play.”
So what should fans expect to see from Portugal in this qualifier tournament and – maybe – a Rugby World Cup?
Lagisquet tells us: “They can expect to see creative players, players who can create something even with short space, even if it’s one player against two or three sometimes. We have some players who can surprise everybody, even me. I know them well and sometimes they do things I can’t believe!
“But we do sometimes make big mistakes, too. It’s rugby players that Serge Blanco would have loved!”
As for strategy in Dubai, Lagisquet says that against “some opponents” (we assume the lower-ranked Hong Kong and Kenya sides), they will look to blitz with speed and tenacity from the off.
But you must be adaptable in this game. And when we say it might be easier to know more about the North Americans than, say, the African outfit, Lagisquet has to fight to keep the corner of his mouth hinting at a smile as he tells us that the Rugby Africa Cup recently being played in France was a blessing.
Qualify and everything could change. Lagisquet tells us firmly that if they do make the World Cup, he’ll batter down his president’s door to make Lusitanos professional (or semi-pro at least). The days of losing players to good office jobs must end. On that, you can sense his belief.
The above feature is from the current issue of Rugby World magazine.
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