Talents from France, portrait of Portugal "Os Lobos", the surprise guest of the Rugby World Cup

Portugal begins the second Rugby World Cup in its history on Saturday.

Talents from France, portrait of Portugal "Os Lobos", the surprise guest of the Rugby World Cup

Portugal begins the second Rugby World Cup in its history on Saturday. Discovery of a semi-professional team with French accents, miraculously qualified for this world championship.

Against Wales on Saturday afternoon, Portugal will play its first match in this 2023 Rugby World Cup. A difficult start for a team which, in the shadow of the football Seleçao, is gradually professionalizing. "Os Lobos" ("The Wolves") are playing this year in the second rugby world championship in their history, after that of 2007. Despite a tough last match against Romania (10-14), they had lost their four group matches and had conceded no less than 209 points, for only 38 registered. They notably had the opportunity to face the All Blacks, for a defeat which is still today the third largest in World Cup history: 108 to 13.

Sixteen years later, Portugal returns to the elite of world rugby with the ambition of doing well and, why not, winning a match. They fell into Pool C and will therefore face Wales, Georgia, Australia and Fiji. Their only real chance of a result will surely be against Georgia, a team a priori superior but against whom the Portuguese won a draw in February 2022 (25-25). Led by their French coach Patrice Lagisquet, former coach of Biarritz Olympique, the Lusitanians can count on an experienced team which has more and more professional players in its ranks. Many selected players play in the lower divisions of the French championship, from Pro D2 to National 2, and others in the Portuguese championship. More and more are professional or semi-professional.

Mike Tadjer, born to a French mother and a Portuguese father, was a hooker at Agen, Brive, Grenoble and Clermont before joining USAP, his current club. While the Portuguese selection has established its base camp in Perpignan, the city of its club, he explains: "It's a bit of a world championship at home. We have to show the world that Portugal exists." Like him, many players in the selection come from the Portuguese diaspora in France, and will therefore feel a little at home during this World Cup. Among them, 34-year-old scrum half Samuel Marques, a leading figure in the team, who spent his entire career between the Top 14 and Pro D2. The team captain, Tomás Appleton, spent almost his entire career in Lisbon. He is also a dentist by profession, as he is only semi-professional like many of his teammates.

Portuguese Wolves secured their World Cup qualification in the very last minute of their final qualifying match. In the repechage tournament, in November 2022, they easily beat Kenya and Hong Kong, before facing the United States in the decisive match to reach the world championship. Thanks to a penalty from Samuel Marques in the 82nd minute, the Portuguese snatched a draw (16-16) and won the precious sesame thanks to a greater "goal-average" than their opponents. Portugal was also able to take part in this repechage tournament thanks to the disqualification of Spain, ahead in the ranking of the first qualifying tournament, but which had fielded a player not eligible for selection. The Portuguese are therefore truly miraculous, and they will take advantage of this World Cup to put their nation on the world rugby map.