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New fixtures and old rivalries as Portugal make it to Rugby World Cup 2023
Os Lobos will be appearing at their second tournament in 10 months’ time after Friday’s 16-draw with the USA saw them win the Final Qualification Tournament in Dubai and secure a place in Pool C.
With none of the Os Lobos class of 2007 still playing professionally, Rugby World Cup 2023 will be a new experience for the entire Portugal squad.
But through assistant coach Luis Pissarra, a veteran of their one and only appearance 15 years ago, the current crop of players will have heard many stories of what playing on the game’s grandest stage is like.
And on 16 September, 2023 in Nice, they will get to experience it for themselves in Portugal’s match of the tournament against Wales.
Portugal have never played Wales before in the professional era, their only previous encounter coming in 1994, in Lisbon when they were on the receiving end of a 102-11 defeat.
At the time, it was Portugal’s heaviest-ever defeat and still ranks third behind a 92-0 loss to Romania and the 108-13 defeat to the All Blacks at Rugby World Cup 2007.
The Portuguese side that the likes of Nigel Walker, WRU Performance Director, and World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee, Ieuan Evans, ran ragged that day is a mere shadow of the one that will enter Rugby World Cup 2023 as one of Europe’s most exciting teams.
See you in France, @PortugalRugby! 🇵🇹👏#RWC2023 pic.twitter.com/kenWHGT1M2— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) November 18, 2022
As regular competitors in the Rugby Europe Championship, Portugal are much more familiar with their second opponent, Georgia. It is a fixture that dates back to 1997 with 24 meetings all told.
Portugal more than held their own in the early years, winning four of the first seven encounters, but have not tasted victory since the last of those, in 2005.
Os Lobos are without a win in the last 17 matches against the Lelos, but three of those have been draws, the most recent at the start of this year’s Rugby Europe Championship.
Os Lobos held their hosts to a 25-25 draw, ending Georgia’s 20-match winning run in the competition. While Portugal were unable to kick on from that result and secure automatic qualification, they will take huge confidence from the way they performed that day in Tbilisi when they meet again in Toulouse on 23 September.
Portugal could face Georgia before then but only if both progress to the knockout stages of the new-look Rugby Europe Championship and draw each other either in the semi-finals or final.
For the first time in their history, Portugal will play Australia at Stade Geoffroy Guichard, Saint-Étienne, on Sunday 1 October, before they round off their Pool C fixtures against Fiji a week later in Toulouse.
Portugal and Fiji have met twice before, Os Lobos being beaten in both but by no means disgraced in either of the fixtures in Lisbon.
Fiji won the first game in 2005, 26-17, and improved on that margin in the second game in 2013, winning 36-13. Francisco Appleton, the brother of current Portugal captain, Tomás Appleton, was on the bench in the latter game.
Whatever the outcome, their entertaining brand of rugby, a Les Bleus legend in Patrice Lagisquet as head coach, and the one million-strong Portuguese diaspora in France will ensure they certainly won’t lack support at any of the venues.