Pedro Leal has long been called the little genius of Portuguese Sevens. He pulls the strings for the European side that battle only training 3 times per week in Lisbon but remain more than competitive on the World Series taking scalps such as South Africa and England in Dubai last season. This season Pedro gives us an insight into rugby 7s in Portugal
Our season started in September after only 3 weeks of the squad being back together in Bucharest on the European Grand Prix Series. We were clearly off the pace in comparison to France and England who had been in camp for longer. It was a great tool for us though to try some patterns and some structures and set us up before heading to Australia. Winning the Plate against Scotland was a good return for a tough weekend.
As we headed to Australia, we have been constantly reminded that in the previous 3 years, we had not won a game in Australia and the first leg of the series is important to set the tone for the year especially as the tournament stands alone unlike any other on the HSBC World Sevens Series.
We finished Day One without a win but the overriding feeling was one of frustration. We should have capitalise on the half-time lead against Wales. In the second half of that game, we gave them too much ball and Lee Williams and Chris Knight punished us. Fiji are always tough and they played well against us but again with Canada we felt we could have won the game. Before the game, people were talking about Canada needing to score alot of points to go through to the Cup but we contained them and scored some good tries but could not get our noses in front.
Last year on the Series we did not win a game on Day Two. Whether that be Bowl followed by Shield or Cup followed by the Plate. We had always come away empty handed. France played well against us and showed us how far we still have to go in the Bowl Quarters but against Tonga in the Shield who had previously lost all 4 of our past fixtures we played very well. Our fitness and structures worked well and we did not let Tonga into the game winning 40.7 in our performance of the weekend. In the final against the USA, they were stronger and fitter than us and we fell short.
On the whole we felt that we were not far away from performing and further time in training together will make alot of difference. We certainly feel like we can win matches on Day One and Two especially when considering that we were missing 6 regular players in Gold Coast due to school or work commitments who will be back for Dubai.
Vieria Francisco de Almeida and Carl Murray were superb this weekend. They were the stand out players in our squad offering physicality and speed both in the loose and the breakdown, the addition of further players to these will make alot of difference.
Next stop on the series is Dubai, somewhere that we have always played well in the past. We were in an incredibly tough group last season with England, South Africa and Samoa and we beat the English and the Boks with the latter being the first time in history that we had won. This years group is just as tough with series leaders New Zealand, Samoa and France. Our aim is to do better in Dubai than we had done in Gold Coast on both Days One and Two
The priority for the Portuguese Federation is XVs and the XVs national players play for their club rather than the National 7s team. Our 7s team is amateur with the players either studying or working with us training 3 times a week either in the gym or on the field 3 times per week in Lisbon. We are all also playing at the weekends for our XVs clubs. It is very difficult for us under these challenges but we do feel with the players we have that we can be competitive on the series
Francisco Vieira de Almeida , Pedro Bettencourt , Nuno Sousa Guedes and Duarte Moreira are the players to look out for in Portugal shirt. They have stood out on and off the field and will be the core of the squad that takes us forward towards our ultimate ambition of retaining our place on the World Series for another year come the end of the season.