By Frankie Deges
Portugal earned the right to play in the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2013 in Chile when they beat the likes of Belgium, Russia and Georgia last October. Newcomers to the Trophy, they will become the 20th nation to compete at this level.
They are not expecting an easy welcome, but the pathway for this young Portuguese team has been clear for a few years, explains Tomaz Morais, one of the most acute rugby brains in his country.
As his Union’s General Technical Director, the former national representative and coach has overseen a High Performance Plan, partly funded by the IRB, aimed at educating and developing players and coaches, including the Under 20s.
“This is a very special group of players that has been working in our Academy for three years now and it shows,” explained Morais, who took Portugal to Rugby World Cup 2007. “We have high hopes in this team and going to Chile is very important for our future.”
It is hard for a new team at this level to set a realistic goal, although Morais believes the ideal outcome is to win at least two of the four matches they will play in the 28 May to 9 June tournament in Temuco.
Heart and soul
“We have very good culture in this team, heart and soul. Portugal will play open, attractive rugby. The Under 20s have a strong front row, forwards that whilst not big in size know their job and good backs, two of which have gained a lot of experience in the HSBC Sevens season.”
One of those player is Sosa Guedes, who can play at scrum half, fly half or wing and is often compared to Pedro Leal, one of Portugal’s best known players.
Prop Eric dos Santos is the only squad member currently based outside of Portugal, while captain and number 8 Fragoso Méndez having spent a season in Christchurch, New Zealand. The rest continue working tirelessly trying to serve their country with pride.
A game against a French selection and an inter-squad match are scheduled before they depart for South America and Pool A matches against hosts Chile, Namibia and Italy.
Coaches Henrique Rosa and Joao Luis will fine-tune a group of players they’ve coached before at Under 17 and Under 18 level. Last year, in Lisbon, they earned their ticket to Chile with solid wins against the physically tough Russians and Georgians and a very good Belgian team.
Planning for the future
“We always wanted to play in the JWRT, but were unable to beat bigger teams,” added Morais. “Last year, we finally won because our team played to the tactics set and showed how hungry they were. I’d say 90 per cent of the travelling squad were in that FIRA-AER tournament.”
Rugby World Cup is the goal for Portugal, and players from this team are expected to be part of RWC 2019 qualifying process. “Some of them are very close to the full national team. The way they perform in Chile will determine their future,” admitted Morais.
Fitting, because most of these players embraced rugby in the aftermath of Os Lobos debut at RWC 2007.
With all his coaching experience, Morais knows the challenge awaiting Portugal in Chile.
“The home team will be very combative, with quality players that will be hard to beat at home. We were there last year with the national team and you can see their young players are very well taught.”
“Namibia has South Africa next door and play very much to that style, with tactical intelligence. And with regards to Italy, they are the team we know best. We played them at Under 18 and only lost 13-8 in the last minute playing better rugby.”
By Frankie Deges