Manuel Cardoso Pinto wants “united and confident” Portugal to build on “bittersweet” draw versus Georgia
Given that Georgia have dominated the Rugby Europe Championship in recent years and had won their last 20 matches in the competition before Sunday, it shows just how far Portugal have come in recent times that they were slightly disappointed to only draw in Tbilisi.
The game in the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium was a fitting one to end round one of this year's Rugby Europe Championship after Romania had beaten Russia and Spain the Netherlands on Sunday.
A try from Portugal centre Jose Lima, converted by scrum-half Samuel Marques, put Portugal on the cusp of a famous away win on the hour mark.
However, Georgia battled back and their number eight Tornike Jalagonia spun nicely out of a tackle to go over while stand-out Tedo Abzhandadze converted to give them a 25-25 share of the spoils.
“It was a bittersweet feeling,” Manuel Cardoso Pinto, the 23-year-old Portugal full-back who ran a great line to score a try in the game, said.
🏉 This went down to the wire!@GeorgianRugby and @PortugalRugby could not be separated after a brilliant @rugby_europe Championship tussle in Tbilisi pic.twitter.com/skiLUuRcLR— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) February 7, 2022
“On one hand, leaving Tbilisi with two points is something that hadn't happened for a few years in this Championship, but on the other hand we wanted to win and during the game we felt that it was within our reach.
“The try I scored reflects very much the way we like to play. We like to play a game full of speed, unpredictability and good skills.
"During the week leading up to the game we ran that move at least 20 times in training and it turned out to be worth it. I was very happy with the outcome of the play.
“As I said, we wanted to leave Tbilisi with the victory and after the try from Jose we knew that this goal was closer than ever and that's exactly what our captain [Tomas Appleton] told us. We just couldn’t hold on.
“Now the team is more united and more confident than ever. We know that every game this year is a final for the big goal that we've been working towards for three years now since we were promoted to the Championship and that is to go to the Rugby World Cup next year.”
With the points from the Rugby Europe Championship 2022 standings being added to the points from last year’s event to see which two sides will qualify automatically for Rugby World Cup 2023 in France - as well as which side will go into the Final Qualification Tournament – there are some great games in store over the coming weeks.
All eyes on the next game
And one of those is likely to take place this Saturday when Romania host Portugal at the Arcul de Triumf Stadium in Bucharest (17:30 local time, 15:30 GMT) in what visiting head coach Patrice Lagisquet has called a “decisive” game.
Romania are second in the Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification table on 18 points and Portugal are fourth on 16.
When they met in Lisbon last March, Romania grabbed a dramatic 28-27 victory at the end.
Cardoso Pinto, who grew up in Lisbon and now plays for Agronomia Rugby, said: “It was a tough defeat in the last few minutes against Romania last time, but we have learned from our mistakes and we don't want to make them again.
“Now it's time to respond to that defeat in Lisbon and leave Bucharest with one more step accomplished towards the final goal of making the World Cup.
“We expect a very difficult game with a very physical Romania who are also capable of surprising in the backs. These are the challenges that we like and that make us want more and more to get back on the pitch and play for our country.
“Since arriving in Portugal, our head coach Patrice Lagisquet has changed the mindset of the national team.
“He really made us realise that our rugby has a lot of quality and potential to grow, the way he wants us to play is the way we like to play, so that’s the perfect combination.
“Three years ago, we had just been promoted to the Championship and today we are close to qualifying for the World Cup, I think that says a lot about the work that has been done by the staff and the team.
“A captain must be an example, but also integrate new players and contribute to the good atmosphere of the team and Tomas Appleton does that better than anyone.
“He's the first one to tell us to focus on training, but also the last one to leave the meal table after telling good stories. That’s why he's a great captain, he manages to command the necessary respect on the field as well as being a great person off the field. There's only one flaw - he must play cards better!”
Rugby World Cup 2023 – a dream
Portugal, now 17th in the World Rugby Men's Rankings powered by Capgemini after the draw in Georgia, have only made the showpiece event once before, appearing at Rugby World Cup 2007.
So, what would it mean to Cardoso Pinto, who made his international debut in 2017, to go to France in 2023?
“For me it would be a dream,” he states.
“It would not only be one of the peaks of rugby, but of life, especially with the group we have, we are all very united and friends on and off the field.
“After a few difficult months, I feel in very good shape and ready to make a difference on the pitch.”
The Rugby Europe Championship 2022 is due to run until Sunday, 20 March with games being played on the same weekends as the men’s Six Nations 2022, so it continues to be a big couple of months for men’s rugby in Europe.
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(Photo: Luis Cabelo)