Portuguese romanticism was shattered by Welsh realism. Saturday September 16, at the Stade de Nice, the Red Dragons beat the “Wolves” (Os Obos) 28 to 8. New Zealand coach Warren Gatland’s men, however, suffered against the 16th nation in the world. They had to wait until the last minute to score a fourth try, synonymous with an offensive bonus. A result which, however, places them in an ideal position in a tough Group B, which also includes Australia, Fiji and Georgia.

Faced with a more experienced Leek XV and superior in the phases of conquest (scrum, touch), the Portuguese were condemned to play quickly and spread the balls towards the wings. High-risk rugby, in line with the philosophy of their coach Patrice Lagisquet, former winger of the France team, nicknamed in his time “the Bayonne TGV”.

The Portuguese team also had a very French flavor, almost half of the Lusitanian squad plays in France, mainly in Pro D2.

If it did not pay off, the movement rugby of the Portuguese XV delighted an almost full Nice Stadium (35,000 seats) and doubly adorned in red for the occasion. If the Welsh played exceptionally in yellow and black and the Portuguese in white (with green shorts), the supporters of both camps were, in fact, dressed all in red.

For this meeting, the New Zealand coach of the Red Dragons, Warren Gatland, made thirteen changes compared to the victorious Fiji team on Sunday in Bordeaux. But like the French against Uruguay on Thursday, the Welsh B team lacked automatisms.

The Lusitanians have no reason to have regrets. Picked up cold in the 9th minute by an opportunistic try from winger Louis Rees-Zammit, the only “survivor” with third line center Tangaki Taulupe from the starting XV who faced Fiji, the Portuguese quickly recovered to deliver a first period full of courage and audacity, during which they could have scored several times.

Welsh Pack Power

Sometimes outpaced, Warren Gatland’s men relied on the power of their pack. Just before the break, captain and hooker Dewi Lake scored the second try of the match, which allowed his team to return to the locker room with an 11-point lead (14-3).

After their riot of energy in the first period, were the wolves going to hold on? Upon returning from the locker room, the match started at a slower pace and some Lusitanian players began to have cramps. Starting only for the fifth time, the Welsh hinge Gareth Anscombe-Tomos Williams sometimes struggled, which led to a messy game.

After a series of percussions, captain Jack Morgan scored strongly in the 56th minute. The fate of the match was sealed. But the Lusitanians showed that they had heart. In the 63rd minute, flanker Nicolas Martins scored a try full of mischief following a nice combination in touch.

The yellow card – transformed into red at the end of the match – received by Vincent Pinto a few minutes later for dangerous play somewhat tarnished the Wolves’ record. The Welsh then took the opportunity to score, in the last minute of the match, a fourth try by their third row Taulupe Faletau.

The final score (28-8) is harsh for Patrice Lagisquet’s men, who have never failed. Portugal will now challenge Georgia at the Toulouse Stadium on September 23. A nation more accustomed to the high international level, even if in Tbilisi, during the Six Nations B Tournament in 2022, the two teams drew (25-25).

In view of the match against Wales, the Lusitanians now have some certainties which allow them to believe in a first victory in the World Cup. A result which would validate the work accomplished by Patrice Lagisquet and care staff for four years.

With two successes in two matches, Wales climbs provisionally to the top of Group C before the clash on Sunday in Saint-Etienne between Australia and Fiji. The Welsh then face the Wallabies on September 24 in Lyon. This match between two former glories of world rugby promises to be the shock of Group B.