What Samuel Marques, Portugal’s hero in qualification, heard from Raffaele Storti as he got ready to kick Os Lobos into the Rugby World Cup 2023?
You need steely nerves and a reliable method to be a top-notch goalkicker.When he kicked the last-gasp penalty that secured his team’s place at Rugby World Cup 2023 as winners of the Final Qualification Tournament, Samuel Marques demonstrated that he possesses both attributes.
The scrum-half has been a standard wellspring of focuses for his country with his exact objective kicking since he got back to public group obligations in 2021 following an eight-year break, yet none were a higher priority than the three he kicked against the USA with the clock in the red in Dubai last Friday.
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A word to the wise
Portugal faced the possibility of missing out on another Rugby World Cup until Marques, 32, came on to level the score at 16-16.
As he lined up the kick, some of his teammates dared not look, while others couldn’t look away from the career-defining moment.It was a mixture of the two feelings for Raffaele Storti, whose try-scoring exploits have been just as influential in guiding Portugal to France the following year, but he was certainly not speechless.
“I couldn’t stop looking for a second. I was so excited and nervous at the same time that I went to Sam and told him the whole of Portugal was counting on him,” the winger revealed.
“Probably it wasn’t the smartest thing to say as he had already enough pressure to handle, but it just slipped out of me, I said it without even thinking.
“Fortunately, he is a player with a lot of experience and knows how to handle the pressure well.”
Capability briefly Rugby World Cup looked impossible when the USA, driving by three, were five meters from the Portugal line with five minutes to go.
Kapeli Pifeleti had stopped Storti from scoring an early try, and USA captain AJ MacGinty had converted three penalties to Marques’ two for a 16-13 advantage.
Yet, Portugal, and Marques particularly, kept their nerve to have their spot in Pool C close by Grains, Australia, Fiji and Georgia at the following year’s competition.
“Personally I am very excited about the World Cup especially because we’ll have the opportunity to compete against the best teams in the world, with a lot of visibility. This will allow us to show all our qualities, individually and as a team, which I am sure it will surprise a lot of rugby fans,” added Storti.
“To finally have the opportunity to compete against these “giants” in such big stadiums, with a crowd full of Portuguese fans, it is everything we fought for. We’ll have the opportunity to show all our qualities and, hopefully, bring some joy to our supporters with wins.”
Storti, who has scored 13 tries in 18 tests, insists that Portugal won’t just go to France to fill in the numbers. The goal is to automatically qualify for the Rugby World Cup 2027 by finishing in the top three pools.
“We are clearly the underdogs of the group since we’re not even a fully professional team. However, we’re not thinking about that, we’ll think match by match, and prepare for each game like it’s a final and give our best.
“We’ve already proven we are a competitive team that can play positive rugby against top teams as well.
“Examples of this were our draw against Georgia in Tbilisi in the Six Nations B (Rugby Europe Championship) in 2022 or the narrow loss against Japan in 2021.
“We are not going to the Rugby World Cup just to have fun, we have objectives and the third place is the main one.”
Qualification for their first Rugby World Cup since 2007 and only their second ever was celebrated long and hard before they returned home to Portugal to receive a heroes’ welcome.
“It was unforgettable, I have never seen the team so happy,” said Storti, about the post-match scenes.
“In Dubai, we all went partying together, staff and players, and it was really funny. It was clear that we had become more than a team throughout the years, but really good friends.”
A new era
Os Lobos were still competing in the second tier of Rugby Europe’s competition structure when Storti joined the senior Portuguese national team in 2019 after being a member of the country’s successful U20 team.
They didn’t get promoted to the Rugby Europe Championship until the following year, when head coach Patrice Lagisquet made them a force again.
Storti attributes Lagisquet’s appointment as a masterstroke to the former France winger’s ability to clearly define the team’s direction and garner support from all parties involved.
“Before Patrice came, the national team wasn’t competitive and there was not a goal ambitious enough to make players forget about their other duties.
“As rugby is amateur in Portugal, players had other jobs and priorities. Also, some of the pro-players playing abroad didn’t want to risk getting injured or being dropped out from their clubs, so chose not to represent Portugal.
“However, with the arrival of the new staff and the promotion of Portugal to the Six Nations B, a new goal and hope emerged – Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification.
“When Patrice came in he not only brought a lot of knowledge and experience to the group but also different rules and demands of the players.
“In my opinion, it was this collective ambition, together with the new expertise brought from the new staff (Lagisquet, Herve Durquety, João Mirra, Luis Pissarra) that were the keys to our success.”
Portugal bid to become 20th Rugby World Cup 2023 team
The ultimate goal of the four teams participating in the Final Qualifier Tournament in Dubai is to secure the last available spot in France for the Rugby World Cup 2023 that will be held in the following year.
The four teams will compete in a round-robin format over three match days, with the team with the most points winning. Hong Kong, Kenya, Portugal, and the United States are all hoping to get into Pool C and become the 20th team in the competition. There, they will face Wales, Australia, Fiji, and Georgia.
Following their participation in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, which was also held in France, Portugal will be looking to win their second Rugby World Cup.
Os Lobos players have been performing well recently while playing for the Lusitanos in the Rugby Europe Super Cup, where their team won the Western Conference.
In the Super Cup, Manuel Cardoso Pinto has scored seven tries and Pedro Lucas has scored six, while Rodrigo Marta (Dax Rugby/Nationale), Raffaele Storti (Béziers-Hérault), and José Madeira (Grenoble Rugby) have all impressed in France.
The first match for Portugal will be against Hong Kong at 4 p.m. local time (3:30 p.m. CET), followed by a 1 p.m. CET match against Kenya on Saturday, November 12, and a 4:30 p.m. CET match against the United States on November 18.
Speaking to World Rugby ahead of the tournament Portugal captain, Tomás Appleton, said: “We feel pretty confident, we have been talking about it for a long time and our objective is to qualify for Rugby World Cup.
We look at these three games as three finals but we have to start with the first game against Hong Kong, we are very focused on that one. Qualifying would mean the world to the rugby community back in Portugal, they have been waiting for it for a long time. We just want to be present.”
The six matches can be watched live on the Rugby World Cup 2023 website or on television in some markets.At the Sevens Stadium, supporters who are already in Dubai can also attend the games for free.
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