RWC 2023 Qualifier Spotlight: Portugal
It is somewhat fitting that Portugal’s return to the Rugby World Cup comes in France, where their one and only appearance to date came in 2007.
Os Lobos scraped into the reckoning in dramatic fashion back then, edging Uruguay 24-23 on aggregate over two legs after a tumultuous qualifying campaign. This time around it was a draw with the USA in the concluding game of the Final Qualification Tournament in Dubai that sealed the deal.
Portugal didn’t manage a single victory in 2007 after being put in the same pool as New Zealand, Scotland, Italy and Romania.
After heavy defeats to Scotland (56-10) and New Zealand (108-13), Portugal warmed to their task and were much more competitive in their final two fixtures, a 31-5 defeat to Italy followed by a 14-10 loss to Romania.
But Os Lobos will now get the chance to put the record straight after becoming the 20th and final qualifier for Rugby World Cup 2023.
Wins over Spain, the Netherlands and Russia and a bonus-point defeat to Romania in 2021 set Portugal up nicely for a tilt at the top two regional qualification spots.
Those hopes were further raised when they kicked off the second year of European qualifiers by holding Georgia to a 25-25 draw, but they could only manage one more win, against the Netherlands, and missed out to the champions Georgia and runners-up Romania.
As the third-place side in the combined standings, Portugal still had one more chance to make it to France and after big wins against Hong Kong (42-14) and Kenya (85-0), they finished the job off against the USA with a 16-16 draw.
As winners of the Final Qualification Tournament in Dubai, Os Lobos will now take their place in Pool C alongside Wales, Australia, Fiji and Georgia.
Here, we take a look back at their brief Rugby World Cup history …
RWC debut: 9 September, 2007 – Scotland 56-10 Portugal, Stade Geoffroy Guichard, Saint-Étienne
RWC appearances: Played 4, Won 0, Draw 0, Lost 4, Points for 38, Points against 209, Win percentage 0 per cent
Most RWC appearances: Cristian Spachuk, David Penalva, Duarte Cardoso Pinto, Goncalo Uva, Joao Correia, João Uva, Jose Pinto, Luis Pissarra, Paulo Murinello, Rui Cordeiro were ever-presents at RWC 2007
Most RWC tries: David Penalva, Joaquim Ferreira, Rui Cordeiro, Pedro Carvalho each scored a try apiece
Best finish: Have never made it beyond the pool stage
Qualification for RWC 2023: Final Qualifier Winner
Most memorable match: Standing tall among the Oaks: v Romania, on 25 September, 2007
Improving and growing in confidence with every game, Portugal would have targeted their final fixture against Romania as the most winnable.
That belief would have grown stronger as the match entered the final quarter in Toulouse with Os Lobos still leading 7-0 thanks to Joaquim Ferreira’s converted try in the 18th minute.
However, Romania cranked up the forward power and close-range tries from Marius Tincu and Florin Corodeanu denied Os Lobos their maiden Rugby World Cup win.
Iconic moment: Scenes in St-Étienne
With St-Étienne having a large Portuguese community, the Iberians were not short of backing inside the Stade Geoffroy Guichard. And the celebrations that greeted Portugal’s first Rugby World Cup try, scored by Pedro Carvalho following a crash-ball move, were something else. 'The Cauldron', as the ground was known locally, lived up to its name that day.
Low point: A ton of points and a weighty defeat
No one gave Portugal a prayer against New Zealand, and they were right. Portugal were swept aside in Lyon, conceding 16 tries and 108 points. Os Lobos are only one of six teams to have had a century of points put on them in Rugby World Cup history. That said, they did manage 13 in reply and fulfilled their target of finishing within 100 points of their more celebrated opponents.
Iconic player: Pedro Leal
Leal is a veteran of four Rugby World Cups – one in 15s and three in sevens (2005, 2009 and 2013). He started three games at full-back in 2007 before becoming a star on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. With 1,278 points, he is the 13th highest scorer in World Series history.
Did you know?
The Uva brothers, Vasco and Goncalo, played in the pack together at RWC 2007, alongside their cousin, Joao.
Portugal’s head coach in 2007, Tomaz Morais had to cut short his playing career due to a back injury. The former international became a published author and a university professor as well as a successful coach. He was shortlisted for the World Rugby Coach of the Year Award in 2004.
Head coach Patrice Lagisquet scored four tries for France at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 and played in the final against New Zealand. The winger also appeared at RWC 1991, making the last of his 46 appearances for Les Bleus in the quarter-final defeat to England.
Current assistant coach Luis Pissarra was a scrum-half with the national team from 1996-2007 and appeared in all four games at RWC 2007.
“There are more than one million Portuguese people in Paris. To play at a Rugby World Cup in France would be amazing,” Tomás Appleton, the Portugal captain, on the prize that awaits his team.