USA Rugby

United States Vs. Portugal Preview: Eagles Out For Revenge In Lobos Rematch

United States Vs. Portugal Preview: Eagles Out For Revenge In Lobos Rematch

The USA Eagles will face Portugal in an international rugby test match Aug. 12. Here is a preview of the match.

Aug 11, 2023 by Philip Bendon
United States Vs. Portugal Preview: Eagles Out For Revenge In Lobos Rematch

Relatively unconnected until several months ago, the United States and Portugal’s national rugby teams forever will be intertwined. 

It was Portugal, after all, that was responsible for ensuring there would be no American presence at next month’s Rugby World Cup in France. 

The Eagles’ loss was against the Lobos late last year in Dubai, when the two teams squared off in an enthralling encounter to decide the final available RWC spot. Portugal secured it in the final seconds to give a bit of history, and for the Americans, a huge dose of misery. 

This weekend, the United States and Portugal meet again on a rugby pitch for the first time since. 

Plenty of change has occurred in the American ranks since the squad’s debacle in the Arab desert, but with a fresh dose of emerging talent and a new leader on the touchline, the Eagles have a very different team than what Portugal faced in November. 

America will be playing for pride and growth, Portugal for preparation and fine-tuning. Something’s gotta give. 

Here’s a look ahead at the United States’ match against Portugal scheduled for Saturday at the Estadio Algarve, the second of three fixtures in Europe the Eagles are scheduled to take part in this month.

Tense Recent History 

It’ll especially be important this weekend for the Eagles to not let emotions get the best of them on the pitch, because the last time they played Portugal, heartbreak happened. 

In the finale of the Final Qualification Tournament to determine the final spot in the 2023 Rugby World Cup in Dubai in November, Portugal and the United States clashed well ahead of everyone else in the competition on points, with the Eagles needing a win against the Portuguese to escape the disaster of missing out on an RWC. 

However, disaster ensued. 

Ahead in the dying embers of the match, the Americans allowed a penalty to be kicked through by the Lobos’ Samuel Marques in added time that made the final match score 16-16 — which leveled Portugal and the United States on table points at 12 each and allowed the former to earn the final RWC bid on scoring differential. 

It was jubilation for Portugal, which qualified for its second World Cup in its history and first since 2007, and a nightmare for the United States, which missed out on the biggest stage in international rugby for the first time since 1995, while its failure to qualify (along with Canada and others in the region) meant the 2023 RWC would have no North American nation competing for the first time in the history of the competition, too. 

Now squaring off again less than a year later in completely different mindsets — Portugal prepping for a World Cup in just a few weeks, and the United States merely trying to pick up the pieces after hitting rock bottom — there’s little to lose for the Eagles, but perhaps more on the line for the Lobos, as they try to fine-tune and perfect tactics and precision with Pool C play against Wales, Australia, Fiji and Georgia on the horizon. 

That could be to the Americans’ benefit, with a victory against the squad that knocked it out of the RWC perhaps providing them a little bit of respite and momentum as they have nothing left to do now except prepare for Australia 2027. 

Portugal Primed To Go 

As hinted previously, Portugal isn’t a routine qualifier to the RWC, so the fact that the Lobos are going to be on the flight to France is a massive moment for the country’s rugby scene and its continued growth. 

It was made even more remarkable by the fact that Portugal wasn’t even supposed to be in the Final Qualification Tournament in the first place; it originally finished fourth in the Rugby Europe Championship, meaning it would be watching the World Cup from home no matter what, until runner-up Spain was docked 10 points for fielding an ineligible player in two matches against the Netherlands. That put the Lobos back into the playoff spot, which they obviously took advantage of from there. 

Former French international Patrice Lagisquet coaches from the touchline, and he’s selected a 38-man preliminary squad in advance of the RWC that plays exclusively in either France or Portugal, with center Tomas Appleton named captain. 

Players who directly contributed to the Americans’ demise in Dubai are in the fold, too.

Marques, the man whose boot eliminated the United States in the final seconds, is in the squad at age 34, preparing for his first World Cup for his country, as is exciting 22-year-old winger Raffaele Storti, who scored the Lobos’ lone try against the USA and plays club rugby for French giants Stade Francais. Storti scored 10 tries in 12 games during a loan spell to Beziers in the second-tier Pro D2. 

It’s been a long, 16-year road for Portugal to get back to the World Cup, and while it’s certainly bound to enjoy the spoils of what’s to come, no matter what happens in France, the Lobos, who didn’t win a match in their last RWC trip in 2007, also want to put up a competitive fight against the many big names in their pool, too, leaving a squad that should be raring to go for their tune-up against the Americans. 

Will Lawrence Make it Two? 

American rugby needed a bit of a pick-me-up after all the disappointment in Dubai late last year, and though totally erasing the pain of missing out on the RWC won’t happen for at least a few more years, at least the beginnings of the journey have gone smoothly. 

Former coach Gary Gold stepped down after the failure to qualify, and ex-Major League Rugby coach Scott Lawrence arrived onto the scene to fill the vacant role in his place. 

The wheels of change already have been turning; nine players earned their first caps for the Eagles during their strong opening performance of their three-game European tour — a 31-17 victory against RWC qualifier Romania in Bucharest — signifying that USA Rugby is starting early on identifying major movers that will get the national team back on the right track in preparation for 2027 in the short-term and 2031 in the long-term when the United States hosts the RWC for the first time in a landmark occasion for the growth of the sport in the country. 

A surefire way to build more encouragement (and get Lawrence to 2-0 in his brief national team career in the process) for the future would be to pick up yet another away victory against yet another RWC opponent, with Portugal being the middle foe in the United States' ongoing tour (Georgia is the final one later on this month) but certainly the one with the most recent animosity behind it. 

It’s certainly possible, even at the imposing Estadio Algarve, that can hold over 30,000 fans and would be a much-desired boost to the Eagles’ spirits as they stay fresh and find out what works for the future en route to 2027 RWC qualification.