It’s common belief that 95% of World Rugby fans don’t know anything about Portuguese rugby. Not surprising really. There are big doubts and questions like: who plays and coaches there? what games and clubs exist? and many would have never heard of the Campeonato Português de Rugby–or the Portuguese Premiership
But Last Word On Rugby are pleased to give readers ten reasons to be curious about Portuguese rugby.
Before we get to the facts, let’s just give you an idea of what the oval ball in Portugal holds: 2000 senior players, 3000 youngsters and 400 coaches. So it’s not a big presence in World Rugby–and as such, rugby is listed only as the 15th most played sport in Portuguese society.
Even with those short numbers, there’s heart, valor and passion in Portuguese rugby. A nation who dreams of getting bigger each new year, and where the Portuguese Premiership is now more hotly contested for.
Let’s see what reasons there are to be excited for:
Youth – FIVE YOUNG PROSPECTS
1: Nuno Sousa Guedes (GD Direito, Portuguese International. 21 years old, Fly-half/wing)
It’s safe to say that Dr. Strange is not the greatest magician in the World… that title belongs to Nuno Sousa Guedes, the magical GD Direito fly-half/wing.
Fans might remember him from the 2015 World Rugby Sevens Series, when he scored a bunch of incredible and impossible tries. Often he gave his opposition a ‘really bad day’ when he appeared to disappear and then reappear running over the try-line.
The Natural Gift of Speed
Nuno Guedes is the new Pedro Leal for Portuguese rugby, with a natural gift of speed to attack. He has great foot-work and sublime handling skills that can change the pace of the game. Not without experience too, having represented his nation since 2013 (see picture).
2: Vasco Ribeiro (AIS Agronomia, Portuguese 7’s International. 19 years old, center)
One of the most promising Portuguese players in the last few years, Vasco Ribeiro quickly arose in Agronomia’s teams and conquered a spot as an outside center at just 17.
A new kind/type of center that blends some of the traditional qualities of an number 13, with the new era of quickness. That, and the ability to offload shows a variety of rugby skills.
If you followed the HSBC Sevens Series 2015/16 you have already seen Vasco Ribeiro in action, as the new kid made his debut. He played in every tournament of the Sevens Series, developing his skills and strong style of play in his first season.
3: Salvador Vassalo (GDS Cascais, Portuguese International. 24 years old, flanker)
A great leader, a fine example of a rugby player and a superb tackler, Salvador Vassalo hails from GDS Cascais.
Players take their bodies to the limit
He takes his body to the limit, as Vassalo tries his very best to grab each and every single player that tries to break the line and ‘hurt’ his precious Cascais.
Not only that, but also a smart player. Vassalo works like part of his coach’s mind on the field. He reads the game well, making Cascais one of the hardest teams to beat in Portugal.
Vassalo has made a name for himself, going through each of the Portugal development teams: Under 14, 16, 18 and 20 age-groups) reaching the pinnacle in 2013, the Senior national team Os Lobos.
Salvador vassalo, então quando é que é o fim de semana ao volante de um Land Rover? pic.twitter.com/63hpTuZoK6
— Cascais Rugby (@Cascais_Rugby) May 25, 2014
Showing all the qualities that made him one of the biggest names in Cascais, Vassalo is still a figure head of the Portuguese rugby.
4: Volodymyr Grikh (CDUL, Portuguese International. 21 years old, lock)
As big as the game has become, Volodymyr Grikh (of Ukrainian descent) is one of the biggest locks in Portuguese rugby.
Quick, tough and a very committed player to the team, he came back to CDUL after a short spell at Perpignan, in France. He belongs to the ‘new school of Portuguese forwards’. Showing more ability than a rough tackler or strong short play, he likes to involve himself in the fast backline moves and to go for the try.
Players taking over from the Legends
He made his debut in the Portuguese national team last year, playing against the likes of Georgia and Romania in that time. Grikh appears to be taking the lead-spot from Gonçalo Uva, one of the greatest locks of Portuguese rugby history.
A strong analogy, but Grikh is proving those comparisons are worthy.
5: Francisco Bessa (AAC, U-18 Portuguese International. 21 years old, center)
One of the youngest captains ever in Académica de Coimbra history (he was appointed at 20), Francisco Bessa is a force to reckon with.
In his last game [vs Montemor], the Estudante center tackled the opposition 13 times, whilst taking the ball into contact effectively. Eight carries, 65 metres and there he made a difference in a good victory.
A powerful centre, he mixes a heavy dosage of power with the tenacity to never let a tackle escape. While Académica is shaping a new era for its rugby, Francisco Bessa seems to be the rock to hold them with and move the ‘Estudantes’ to new and better times.
Experience – THREE OLD LIONS
6: Pedro Leal (GD Direito, Portuguese International. 32 years old, scrum-half/fullback)
The one and only, Pedro Leal, known as “Pipoca”(Popcorn), a true legend on the field. Quick and a flash step, his pace and famous skills make him a delight to watch.
Playing for the GD Direito senior team since he was only 18, Leal carved his name onto Portugal rugby history. Recognized as one of the best 7’s players on the planet, Pedro Leal will play for the Portuguese National team as a scrum-half in the next season.
Even with his 32 year old legs, Pedro Leal still makes defenses sweat and work really hard to try and catch him. He is still showing the right moves and composer of much Sevens Series successes.
7: António Duarte (AIS Agronomia, Portuguese International. 32 years old, flanker)
One of the strongest tacklers in the last 15 years, António Duarte defines AIS Agronomia rugby spirit and values.
Tight and efficient on defense, a hard-worker as a ball carrier and a spirited captain. Unfortunately Duarte, he didn’t make it to the Portuguese National squad very many times, as the former coaches chose other players for the critical flanker position.
Respected Leaders in Portuguese Rugby
Nonetheless, he’s one of the most respected players of the Portuguese Premiership, as no one wants to be caught in his tackling-show.
8: Gonçalo Foro (CDUL, Portuguese International, 32 years old, wing)
Another sevens Portuguese legend, Gonçalo Foro still makes life hard for the opposition after all these years. One of the most gifted players as a ball carrier, Foro draws real power from his physical stature.
Still in contention to still play as an International player, Gonçalo Foro has an eternal passion for his one-life team, Centro Desportivo Universitário de Lisboa (CDUL). His size, speed and communication makes him one of the biggest legends of CDUL.
Good Direction – THE VETERAN COACH
9: Tomaz Morais (GDS Cascais, Portuguese International. 46 years old)
After working for the Portuguese Union for almost 15 years, Tomaz Morais stepped down from his coach/management role, and now works for Cascais.
Back ‘home’ Tomaz Morais looks to return this club back to the old glory days, when Cascais were 5-time Champions in the 1990’s.
With a strong team, a serious structure and efficient rugby management, Tomaz Morais can surprise us again–this time within the Premiership.
Stadium – THE RUGBY VENUE
10: Tapada de Agronomia (home ground for AIS Agronomia, Alcantara, Lisbon)
One of the most beautiful rugby fields in Portugal, the Tapada of Agronomia defines the romantic view of a rugby fan, player and coach.
Established in the middle of Monsanto Forrest, in the proximity of Lisbon, you will find three rugby fields with all the infrastructures ready to welcome any team to their grounds. Hosting many rugby matches featuring names on this list; including António Duarte and Vasco Riberio, it’s history is as rich as the School of Agronomy where it is situated.
Almost 50 years old, AIS Agronomia “Tapada de Agronomia” is one of the most iconic places to play in Portugal.
Campeonato Português de Rugby
And here you have it, the ten reasons to come and watch the Portuguese Premiership. It’s impossible to watch or follow on TV unfortunately, as the Federação Portuguesa de Rugby does not have a deal with any European TV broadcasters currently.
So with that in mind, visit Portugal–enjoy the competition, get yourself a bit of sun, eat the Pastel de Belém. While here, see an all-amateur game of Portugal finest players, squaring off to reach for the Premiership throne.
The Portuguese national rugby union team, whom qualified for the 2007 Rugby World Cup, became the first all amateur team to qualify for the World Cup in the sport’s professional era. They also bring that ambition and desire to the Portuguese Premiership.
“Main photo credit”