Runners-up in 2017 and bronze medallists at last year’s event, Portugal will have the opportunity to reach even greater heights at the World Rugby U20 Trophy in Brazil in July following their qualification for this year’s event.
In a tense final game at the Rugby Europe U20 Championship, Os Lobitos edged out Spain 7-5 on home soil in Coimbra.
Both sides had won their first two matches to set up the title decider with Spain enjoying convincing victories over Romania and Russia, while Os Lobitos had to work harder to see off French side Nouvelle Aquitaine and the Netherlands.
Spain got off to the dream start in an attempt to qualify for the U20 Trophy for only the second time, scoring through scrum-half Kerman Aurrekoetxea with only 58 seconds gone.
Referee Pierre Nuchy had called the sides back for a scrum on halfway after Portugal had been guilty of being in front of the kicker from the kick-off. And despite coming under intense pressure on their own put in, Spain’s scrum held it together just long enough for number eight Guillermo Moreton to pick up at the base and feed Aurrekoetxea who used his pace to go on an arcing run that split open the defence and resulted in a fine 50-metre solo try.
From that point onwards defences remained on top and no more points were added in the remainder of the first half, despite Spain losing two men to the sin bin.
Winger Eduardo Lopez was first to go on 17 minutes for an illegal aerial challenge on home fly-half Tomas Lamboglia. A lack of composure when in dangerous areas saw Portugal fail to capitalise on their numerical advantage, however, and they almost fell further behind at the end of the first quarter when, after a series of pick and goes, Spain blindside Daniel Barranco was just about held up over the line.
The second yellow card came towards the end of the half as Portugal cranked up the pressure, replacement forward Ignacio Caini the recipient on this occasion for going in at the side of a ruck.
With the penalty count by now heavily stacked in their favour, Portugal opted to for repeated five-metre scrums but when the ball eventually did come out, they were turned over, and Spain went into the break with their slender advantage intact.
Once again Spain were able to survive the 10 minutes when they were short-handed without conceding any points and, at this stage, Portugal's hopes of turning things around remained firmly in the balance.
Using their forward muscle, Portugal pounded away time and time again and after hooker Rodrigo Bento had been held up over the line, they finally got the breakthrough they so desperately needed. From the resulting five-metre scrum, number eight Jose Roque scooped the ball up and slipped it to Joaquim Antonio and the replacement scrum-half squeezed through the slightest of gaps to score.
Having missed two relatively straightforward penalty attempts in the first half, the pressure was on outside centre Miguel Morais to deliver what turned out to the killer blow as he lined up the conversion, but he made no mistake on this occasion with the ball sailing through the poles.
Replacement back Otger Sirvant still had the chance to win the match for Spain late on but he sent his kick just wide of the right upright.
With Portugal and African U20 champions, Kenya both booking their tickets to Brazil this weekend the eight-team line-up for World Rugby U20 Trophy 2019 is almost complete. They join hosts Brazil, Asian qualifiers Hong Kong, Oceania qualifiers Tonga and Japan, the side relegated from the World Rugby U20 Championship in 2018. The remaining place will be filled by a qualifier from North America.
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