Portugal’s remarkable Rugby World Cup 2007 qualification campaign has ended in joy as the Lobos hung on to complete a 24-23 aggregate victory over Uruguay in Montevideo to book a place at the finals for the first time.
Despite losing the second leg 18-12 Tomaz Morais’ team did enough to advance to Rugby World Cup 2007 in France in September and a place in Pool C alongside New Zealand, Scotland, Italy and Romania.
Defending a 12-5 lead after the first leg in Lisbon, Portugal faced a tough second leg against a Uruguayan outfit that had not lost two Rugby World Cup qualification matches in a row at home since 1993.
However, the visitors’ task was made significantly easier when after just two minutes of the match Uruguay lock Juan Bado was sent off for foul play, reducing the home side to 14 men. Despite the numerical disadvantage and spurred by the 10,000 big crowd Uruguay quickly established a 6-0 lead through the boot of full back Juan Menchaca and centre Diego Aguirre.
After a slow start Portugal hit back and responded with two penalties in quick succession from prolific fly half Duarte Pinto. The remainder of the first half failed to spark though as both sides struggled to string phases together.
Locked at 6-6 at the interval, it was clear that something had to give in the second half and the home side kick-started the second period with an unconverted try by winger Martin Crosa after 42 minutes to open up a five point lead. However, Uruguay could not cut loose and Portugal pegged back the home side with a third Pinto penalty to reduce the arrears to just two points.
Portugal took the lead for the first time in the fiftieth minute with Pinto’s fourth successful penalty attempt and suddenly it appeared as though the visitors might record a historic victory on Uruguayan soil.
Uruguay, who made big mistakes in key moments of the game, to their credit, failed to buckle and after a series of attacks close to the Portugal line hit back with a converted try through captain Rodrigo Capo after 64 minutes to recapture the lead and trail on aggregate by just one point.
The final minutes of the second half were frantic as Uruguay pressed for the score of any description that would extend the lead beyond the required seven points and seal a Rugby World Cup place for the second successive time.
But deep in Uruguay’s field, Portugal knew in those final minutes that they only needed to maintain their focus as the dream was turning into reality. Their passion closed every door for Uruguay, which enabled Vasco Uva’s side their moment of glory.
He said: “This is a wonderful feeling; it is something we worked extremely hard for the past four years and it a reward for a long process. We played with passion and for each other. Going to the World Cup will be superb,” said the winning captain who has his brother Goncalo and his cousin Joao in the team.
Coach Tomaz Morais also had a huge smile printed on his face. “It is a wonderful achievement for a group of players and officials that made a huge effort. My wife and children know how hard it was and that in all these years not one day went past in that I didn’t think of the World Cup.” Morais returns to Portugal on Monday with the team, but that same days will travel to Hong Kong to coach the Sevens team.
Losing captain Rodrigo Capó Ortega was dejected, yet tried to remain positive. “It is the end of one road, but the start of a new one and although it hurts to fail to qualify in the way we did, we made far too many mistakes. Having played all of the game a player short was too big a burden, but we still gave all we had.”
“Now we must start thinking about the next four years.”
Portugal's qualification brings to a close the RWC 2007 qualification process that began in September 2004 when Andorra played Norway. In total 86 countries have participated in 192 qualification matches on the road to France 2007.
Uruguay: 15 Juan Menchaca, 14 Juan Labat, 13 Diego Aguirre, 12 Joaquin Pastore, 11 Martin Crosa, 10 Sebastian Aguirre (Juan Martín Llovet), 9 Juan Campomar, 8 Nicolas Brignoni, 7 Nicolas Grille (Rafael Alvarez, 52m), 6 Alfredo Giuria (Juan Manuel Alvarez, 52m), 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega (captain), 4 Juan Bado (sent-off, 1m), 3 Pablo Lemoine (Guillermo Storace, 80m), 2 Juan Andres Perez, 1 Rodrigo Sanchez (Federico Capo Ortega, 55m)
Replacements: 18 Carlos Arboleya, 22 Nicolas Morales
Coaches: Nicolas Inciarte, Fernando Silva, Mario Lame
Portugal: 15 Pedro Leal, 14 Diogo Gama, 13 Miguel Portela, 12 Diogo Mateus, 11 Pedro Carvalho, 10 Duarte Pinto (Goncalo Malheiro, 71m), 9 Luis Pissarra, 8 Vasco Uva (captain), 7 Joao Uva (Paulo Murenillo, 80m), 6 Juan Severino (Diogo Coutinho, 66m), 5 Marcelo D’Orey (sinbin, 39m)(David Penalva, 66m), 4 Goncalo Uva, 3 Joaquin Ferreira, 2 Joao Correta (sinbin, 13m), 1 André Lourenzo (Rui Cordeiro, 66m), Replacements: 16 Rui Cordeiro, 17 Duarte Figueredo, 18 David Penalva, 19 Diogo Coutinho, 20 Paulo Murinello, 21 Jose Pinto, 22 Goncalo Malheiro
Coach: Tomaz Morais and Daniel Hourcade
Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England)
Scoring sequence, Uruguay first
3-0 – Menchaca pen (9 mins)
6-0 – Aguirre pen (19 mins)
6-3 – Pinto pen (21 mins)
6-6 – Pinto pen (27 mins)
11-6 – Crosa try (42 mins)
11-9 – Pinto pen (46 mins)
11-12 – Pinto pen (50 mins)
18-12 – R Capo try, Menchaca con (64 mins)