Los Leones book their place in France next year with 33-28 victory over Portugal


Spain qualify for Rugby World Cup 2023

Spain have booked their place at next year’s Rugby World Cup after beating Portugal 33-28 in Madrid.

The crowd rushed onto the pitch at the final whistle to celebrate with the players as los Leones qualified for the men’s global showpiece for the first time since 1999 and only the second time in their history.

This Rugby Europe Championship (REC) win ensured they will finish second in the combined table of 2021 and 2022 results so go through to France 2023 as Europe Two.

With so much riding on the result it was little surprise that it was such a tight contest, but whenever momentum seemed to be swinging Portugal’s way, Spain upped the tempo to create another scoring opportunity.

They touched down four times in the first half to the visitors’ two, with tighthead prop Jon Zabala scoring the opening try by bursting into the 22 and over the line.

Simao Bento got Portugal’s first try before Fred Quercy and Marco Pinto scored for the hosts. Even when Pedro Bettencourt surged through a hole in the 33rd minute to reduce Spain’s lead to just two points, Portugal couldn’t exert more pressure as the hosts increased the speed of their play once more and Pinto got his second to ensure a 24-17 lead at the break.

After all the tries of the opening 40 minutes, the next half-hour was dominated by Manuel Ordas (Spain) and Samuel Marques (Portugal) exchanging penalties.

Spain led 33-23 going into the final five minutes, when Portugal set up camp in their 22 – and created a tense finish.

Jose Madeira eventually got over in the corner in the final minute, with Spain reduced to 14 players, to make it 33-28. And they had one last opportunity to score again from the restart, but they conceded a penalty at the breakdown and victory was Spain’s.

Georgia’s qualification for the World Cup was assured following the decision to award four points to Russia’s opponents for matches that can’t be played following their suspension. The Lelos’ 26-23 victory over Romania ensures they go through as Europe One and join Pool C with  Australia, Wales, Fiji and the Final Qualifier winner.

Georgia top the combined table of REC results from 2021 and 2022 on 39 points with one game still to play, while Spain cannot be surpassed in second spot on 29 points. They go into Pool B with Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and Asia/Pacific One.

Related: Rugby World Cup fixtures

The team that finishes third in the combined table has a second chance to make it to France 2023 in the Final Qualifier tournament later this year.

Romania (23) are three points behind Portugal (26), who have now played all their REC matches, but are in pole position to take that third-place slot because they will be expected to pick up a maximum five match points from their final game against Netherlands, who have yet to win a match they have played in the REC over the past two years.

Spain qualify for Rugby World Cup 2023

Rugby World Features Editor Alan Dymock’s verdict from Madrid 

If ever there was a match to show the vibrancy of rugby outside of the ‘Big Test’ establishment, this one in Madrid was it. A whopping prize to play for, a showdown between neighbours, a first half to get you off your seat and a second wrought with tension and a fair few errors. And the atmosphere in the ground was superb.

Opportunities came and went throughout the second half but as the weight of what was at stake ground each side down, there was a see-saw nature to the action. Every hit, every step, every dropped ball sent shudders through the crowd.

Up front Spain’s Jon Zabala and Manuel Mora put in a hell of a shift, while Portugal’s goalkicking nine Samuel Marques was a flapping, ball-carrying, shouting, squirming nuisance all game.

A lineout for Portugal from five metres out, with four minutes left to play? You better believe it. They were ten points behind and needed a try desperately. But what met them was a hellcat defence. As Spain forced the knock-on, the ground erupted. Time and again Portugal knocked on the door, but their final try was too little too late.

Spain are into the Rugby World Cup for the first time since 1999 and you better believe they are partying like it’s that year, all over again. Vamos!

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