The Portuguese Flash – Pedro Leal

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JANUARY 30: Pedro Leal of Portugal evades Tom Kingston of Australia to score a try during the 2016 Wellington Sevens match between Australia and Portugal at Westpac Stadium on January 30, 2016 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images for HSBC)

The Sevens Rugby World had it’s fair share of legendsWaisale Serevi, Ben Gollings, Eric Rush, Simon Amor, Christian Cullen, and many others. But there’s one who is still in the game: Pedro Leal, the Portuguese Flash. One of best players of all time, he stands as the 6th top All-time point scorer of the World Sevens Series and one of the most fantastic players who ever stepped in the Series.

Last Word on Rugby had the opportunity to talk to Pedro, to get his opinion on the Series and to “discover” who Pedro Leal really is, one of the mightiest legends of Portuguese and European rugby from the last 20 years.

LWOS: Pedro, let’s start with a straight forward question: are you missing already the Sevens World Series, as Portugal won’t be part of the setup for this season?
Pedro Leal: «Yes definitely. I started missing the World Series since the last tournament, that was in London.»

LWOS: Do you think that teams like Fiji, New Zealand, France, Kenya and so on will miss Portugal in the World Series?
PL: «Yes, I think so. We played the last 10 years in the Series, we were one of the oldest teams there and people knew how difficult it was playing against us. I can recall that we only didn’t win against Fiji and New Zealand (we managed a draw in 2015)… everyone knew that on a good day, we could make things hard for them. We had, and have, really good relationships with other teams and the organization of the Series, they really liked us. »

LWOS: In the Olympics, you were invited to speak about it on Sporttv and give some insight on the Rugby tournament. Did you think that the Brazilian community liked the sport?
PL: «We all know that rugby in Brazil is now making a really strong effort to become one of the main sports, so you could think that you would have a small but good crowd. It was a big surprise when you saw the games with an almost full crowd in the stadium, watching and cheering the 12 rugby National teams.»

LWOS: Do you feel that rugby can still grow bigger worldwide?
PL: «It’s getting bigger every year. The moment that we stepped at the Olympics, rugby got another great spotlight on itself. It can still get stronger, but I’m happy with how things are going.»

LWOS: Now at 31 years old, do you still want to try to play in Europe? If you could play in any place, what would be your pick?
PL: «Well, to be honest, three weeks ago I got an offer to got to France. But, at the moment I have two daughters (2 years old and 4 months), so it’s hard to separate from them. Where would I go, if I could? France, definitely. I played there (Brive) for three seasons, and loved every minute. But there’s a problem… my wife doesn’t like France, because of the language (laughs).»

LWOS: After 20 years as one of the best rugby players and athletes in Portugal, you are now launching your rugby coaching career, alongside your brother. How’s the new experience going?
PL: «Since my time in France (I was 18 at the time) I took some coaching classes, which Brive had especially for professional players. When I came back to Portugal, to GD Direito (my team since almost day one), I helped some of the youth teams. After that, I coached in Direito Academy, which gave me know-how to launch my own Rugby Academy, called Pedro Leal (with my brother Miguel). I want to share my experience, knowledge and technique to young players, so they can thrive on in our country.»

LWOS: So is your Academy going to “invade” Europe?
PL: «We are taking care of it… you will have to wait just a little longer, but we will go worldwide. For now we will open our Academy to International youth players, who want to come and train under our guidance.»

LWOS: What about the World Series? Who do you think that will take the Cup in this season?
PL: «Well you have Fiji, New Zealand and, my favorite, South Africa. The Fijians will stay strong, even after Ben Ryan left, as they are fully focused on being the top dog in the Series… every year new Fijians good players show up and keep feeding the flying Fijians. New Zealand will have to discover themselves again, and I hope the goodbye from Sir Gordon Tietjens won’t be a problem in the future. And South Africa, who are the strongest team as a whole… I Hope they can win this year!»

LWOS: Why do you think Fiji is one of the biggest teams in the World Series?
PL: «Since the day they are born, they play sevens (laughs). Well, seriously it’s because of the talent, magic and speed… it’s incredible how they juggle with the ball and create a try from nothing.»

LWOS: Favourite player in Sevens? And team?
PL:«Tomasi Cama… what a big player! Since he left the New Zealand squad, the 7’s All Blacks never were the same. And the Blitzbokke are my favorite. The teamwork and how they see themselves as a family, show how they take rugby as a strong and serious passion.»

LWOS: Can we have in the future an International Club 7’s championship? Do you think a Portuguese team can rise to be a serious competitor?
PL:«For now it’s impossible, but in the future maybe it will happen. In the USA there’s already a Sevens National Premiership, which is big. Portugal can be a strong contender, if we can match the same conditions that other countries have.»

LWOS: Let’s go back to the past… when did you fall for Sevens? Do you remember your first game?

PLStarted when I was 17, and Tomaz Morais picked me to be part of the Direito team in the Lisboa Sevens. It was awesome as I played my first games and we won the tournament. When I completed my 18 birthday, Tomaz Morais called me to replace Pedro Netto in the squad and I even played with his shirt at the time. With the same age I went for the first time to Dubai… good old times!»

LWOS: You played for the Samurais, which was one of the biggest international Sevens teams in the World. There will be a new opportunity to play with them again?
PL: «Yes! I was going to play for them this weekend in Kenya, but my coach in Direito asked me to stay here, as the Portuguese Premiership starts this week. I played in three tournaments for the Samurai and I passed many opportunities to play with them because of the National team. But I will be back shortly, I promise!»

LWOS: And what about Beach Rugby? Do you think World Rugby should look at it as way to get to public?
PL: «Beach rugby is going to be the next big thing in the Rugby World. The Portuguese players really like to play it and I think people, in general, like it.»

LWOS: Is there a future for Portuguese rugby? Can our players match against the Spanish, Georgians, Romanians or Russian players?
PL: «Of course there’s future for the new generations. The problem with Portuguese players it’s the amateur “life”! Even in Spain they are already semi-professional, with loads of foreigner players playing there. GD Direito won the Last Iberian Cup against the former Spanish champions, VRAC, with only amateur and Portuguese players in  the squad. But to jump to a higher level you need better conditions and a good structure. Only with that you can play against those professional teams.»

LWOS: Will Portugal play again in the Rugby World Cup?
PL: «I hope so. It’s going to get harder each time but if we can build a strong squad we can go to the World Cup… when? I don’t know.» »

LWOS: Which was the best try in your career? And if you could, what other position would you want to play in?
PL: «Best try? Seriously? I don’t know. In 2012/2013 I scored a try against Samoa that was voted the best of the year for the World Series. But for me it wasn’t the best. One time I had the pleasure to face, in the game, Serevi… at a certain point I wound up facing him in a 1 versus 1 situation and bested him (laughs). None… I was lucky enough to have played in all of my favorites: scrum-half, fly-half and full-back.»

LWOS: Last question and this one is tough… the most annoying player that you played against?
PL: «Most annoying player was, without a doubt, called Abadallejo, a player from the French 7’s National team. In that game against France, he annoyed everyone, even his team-mates.»

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