Now that the domestic season has finished with a 10th league title for the Direito Club after a narrow victory over reigning champions CDUL on Saturday, the attention of Portuguese rugby swiftly turns to the forthcoming World Rugby U20 Trophy from 12-24 May.
Ahead of their second appearance in the competition, Portugal under-20 head coach João Pedro Varela has named a 26-strong squad made up of mainly locally based players.
Many of Portugal’s senior squad made their name at under-20 level, with nine of the class of 2013 having since graduated to the test arena, and Varela hopes some of the current crop will follow suit.
“It's highly important,” said Varela, when asked about the importance of the World Rugby U20 Trophy as a development pathway.
“Our players don’t have the chance to compete against higher ranked teams as many times as we’d like and we know that if we want to develop our game we have to compete against the best.
“I’m not able to put a number on how many of the squad will eventually make the senior national team because so many factors will still come into play in these kids’ lives, but that’s obviously one of our goals as coaches.
"We expect all of the players to work hard and to the best of their ability, and if they do that then they’ll make big steps in their development as men and as rugby players.
“I hope that we, the coaches, are good enough to drive them on in that journey. If we all achieve that, the team will be okay and we will succeed.”
Portugal have been handed a tough draw as they look to better their sixth place finish in Chile in 2013, after being paired with Fiji, who were relegated from the World Rugby U20 Championship after finishing bottom last year, and two physically strong sides in Georgia and 2008 champions Uruguay.
“It will be tough for sure,” said Varela, who was capped nine times by Portugal at full-back from 1997 to 2000. “We are the lowest ranked team in the competition and nobody expects a great deal from us and we understand that.
“We will try to plan every game to the best of our abilities and then execute our game-plan. How well we do in getting all the fine details right will be reflected in the final standings and results.”
Age-grade international rugby is on something of a high in Portugal at the moment with the under-19 sevens team reaching the final of the Vichy Cup after victories against Denmark, Israel, Belgium, Poland and Romania. Last month the under-18s XVs side defeated Scotland in a penalty shootout to finish a creditable sixth in Rugby Europe’s elite Under-18 Championship.
Varela, who doubles up as skills coach for the senior men’s team, expects his side to play a vibrant brand of rugby that, he hopes, will get the locals onside.
“Rugby is not one of the major sports in Portugal so having the possibility to promote this kind of event in Portugal and in the Lisbon area is a huge asset for the union,” the 39-year-old said.
"I’ve no doubt that a lot of people will follow the competition and get more in touch with the game."
“I think it’s definitely a great opportunity to bring new spectators to the game and raise awareness through mass media. I’ve no doubt that a lot of people will follow the competition and get more in touch with the game.
“If we can bring new people to the game because it’s fun, it’s tough, tries are scored and the game’s values are truly lived on and off the field, then we will have accomplished our mission and contributed to the growth of the game.”
Live streaming of the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2015 will be available to access through www.worldrugby.org.
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