Portugal rivalled Fiji as the neutral’s favourite team at Men’s Rugby World Cup 2023 with their thrilling band of rugby wowing fans in France and those back home watching in front of their TVs.
Two big moments will remain forever – the draw against Georgia when they claimed their first tournament point and the 24-23 win against Fiji, Portugal’s first-ever Rugby World Cup victory, while Os Lobos were also competitive for long periods in defeats to Australia and Wales on their return to the game’s biggest stage after a 16-year absence.
The quarter-finals proved beyond them but it was some parting shot from head coach Patrice Lagisquet who drew the curtain on his four-year tenure in charge of the team as soon as Os Lobos’ campaign was over.
So, now that the euphoria has subsided, how does Federaçāo Portuguesa de Rugby President, Carlos Amado da Silva, reflect on Portugal’s performance in France and what sort of impact has it had on the country?
We put some questions to him…
Did Os Lobos exceed the union’s expectations at RWC 2023?
Contrary to what many people thought, Os Lobos' performance fitted in perfectly with our expectations. The team was very well prepared, and we knew we could surprise our opponents. Today we all realised that we could have gone a little further, but we improved from match to match, and we were not far away from a qualification that, with a little more experience and confidence, would have been possible. Then yes, we would have exceeded our expectations. It was very good and we're very proud of what we have achieved!
What aspect of the tournament pleased you most?
The World Cup in France was marked by South Africa's victory, the French and Irish disappointments, and the spectacle of the Portuguese game. In this context, it's worth noting the good performances of other teams, particularly Chile and Uruguay, who, along with Portugal, are calling for more opportunities.
Will Australia 2027 be a step too far for influential older players like Mike Tadjer and Sam Marques?
I'm not sure that Samuel Marques won't be in Australia if we qualify. He's an extraordinary player who's still in great shape. A player who, on the pitch, is still a young man. Mike has also started playing again and, like Francisco Fernandes, his experience could be very useful on or off the pitch. We'll see.
However, it's clear that we have younger players with great quality and others who aren't part of the squad but could be. The team will know how to maintain the performance level that has achieved.
What impact has Os Lobos’ achievements had on rugby back in Portugal?
The media impact was huge. We finally managed to make the front pages of the newspapers and the top news on national television. Internationally, Portugal has been praised by the entire world rugby family. Players, ex-players, coaches, managers from all over the world. It was fantastic.
All the media attendance records have been broken and the demand for new players has been good. But the problem is managing to maintain this visibility in a country where football monopolises sports information and institutional support is insufficient, although there is a lot more attention from private companies that recognise our rugby values.
What plans did you put in place to create a legacy to build on RWC 2023?
The big change was the demand for a competent, experienced, and respected coach, who made players practice at normal times and not at the end of the day after a day's work. The recovery and reintegration of professional players playing in France was absolutely crucial.
The symbiosis achieved between amateur and professional players was the key to success. The three-and-a-half months of preparation in which the amateurs trained as professionals allowed them to grow fantastically, which was only possible thanks to the working conditions we provided and, of course, the excellent quality of the staff led by Patrice Lagisquet.
The preparation for the World Cup was very well planned and the big investment paid off!
Would you be keen to stage major rugby events in Portugal?
Not only would we like to, but we've already expressed this desire to European officials, both from the Top 14 and the EPCR, and I don't hide the dream of organising a World Cup, possibly in partnership with another European country...
Is the Lusitanos team seen purely as a player development vehicle or is there a hope that it will one day become the country’s first pro rugby team and be marketed as such?
There can be no doubt about that. The Lusitanos will be a support base for Os Lobos and that will only be possible with their professionalisation. We are signing players with extreme attention not to "empty out" the national clubs.
The players, even if they have a contract with the union, will be able to continue to represent their clubs in the most important matches, in a negotiation process that we will open and that protects all three parties: players, national teams and clubs. It's a delicate process that we'll have to manage very carefully.
Unfortunately, you have to find another new national team coach. What qualities are you looking for in the new appointment?
It's good to be clear that Patrice Lagisquet informed me in advance that he couldn't continue after the World Cup. Purely for family reasons, nothing else.
I was very sorry for his departure, and I never failed to give him all the conditions he asked for. I have great admiration for Patrice and his work. Portugal owes him this success and Patrice owes us his "rehabilitation" by proving to be an extraordinary coach who could, or may, be very useful to his country.
If he achieved what he did with the conditions he had in Portugal, imagine what he would be capable of in a country with other ambitions and a different budget?
He will go down in the history of Portuguese rugby as one of the great and he has a friend in each of us. We'll still need his advice!
Is the next objective to win the 2024 Rugby Europe Championship?
Absolutely. It's a big responsibility, but let's not kid ourselves that it's going to be very difficult. Georgia, Spain and Romania, although momentarily behind us in the world rankings, are very strong teams, particularly Georgia who have done an extraordinary job.