Over the weekend of 12-14 April, Lisbon played host to over 3000 young players from all five continents as Europe’s largest and most prestigious youth Rugby Festival moved into full swing.
The Portugal Rugby Youth Festival is also widely considered the best organised and its popularity is clear from the growing number of teams competing each year. This year 115 lined up including 55 from overseas which gives this tournament a very special international flavour.
Countries represented included Australia, the USA, Namibia and Qatar alongside all of the traditional European rugby-playing nations. The contingent from the UK included Coventry College, Glasgow High Kelvinside, Ivybridge College, Queen Elizabeth High School Carmarthen, Pencoed Youth, Sidmouth and Worcester.
The tournament comprises under 13, 15, 17 and 19’s for boys and under 15 and 19’s for girls.
The under 19 boys is always the show stopper with high class, fast flowing rugby from some of the most accomplished teams on the planet. This year’s final was an all-English affair with Myerscough College playing Truro College. The spoils going 13-0 to the Sale Sharks Academy team after a tense, combative affair.
Post-match, Coach Matt Garrod of Myerscough College said: “We enjoy this tournament, the competition and the first-class organisation and have been supporting it for many years. Coming here to Lisbon is a reward for our lads who have worked hard throughout a long tough season, which started back in August.”
The Girls under 19 section was won by the Australian team, Melbourne Kangaroos as they beat a Portuguese select team, Lobinhas 15-14 with the final play of the match.
At under 17 level, the 24 entries included Tullow RFC, the Irish team deservedly winning the category with flair and a superb defence. They did not concede a point across six games and scored 105, In the final they beat local champions CDUL 7-0.
In the under 15 boys section, where Worcester and Blackheath featured for the first time in the 11 year history of the event, Blackheath were the cream of the crop although in the final they were pushed hard by Cascais and scored the only try of the game in the final minute. Portuguese team Lusitanas won the under 15 girls title, beating USA Schools 12-5.
32 teams were involved at under 13’s creating a demanding and highly competitive two days of rugby. The finalists were Portuguese teams, Agronomia and Direito, Agronomia winning 15-10 in extra time. The final demonstrated in no uncertain terms the quality of youth rugby in Portugal in the face of strong opposition enroute to the final from England, Ireland, Scotland and Spain. Indeed, over the weekend the host sides were competitive in all age groups which bodes well, particularly in light of the recently agreed initiative with Premiership Rugby to support the development of the game in Portugal. Much to the gratitude of all the coaches present, George Tavner, Assistant Academy Manager & Coach Development Lead at Bath Rugby and Andrew Webb, Coach Development Officer at the RFU were on hand throughout the Festival to lend their support.
Off the pitch, there was plenty on offer for players, coaches and spectators including a thoroughfare of pop up stalls, live entertainment, a zip wire and climbing wall. The tournament offers young people an exceptional life experience, as different cultures come together, play competitive sport, enjoy the ambience of one of Europe’s great cities and share the very best rugby values together. The involvement of Lewis Moody, the event’s 2019 ambassador added further to the weekend as he conversed and exchanged tales and advice with coaches and players alike.
Organiser and former Portuguese international, Antonio da Cunha, praised the players, parents, coaches and referees for making this year’s Festival the best ever: “You amplify all that is good about Rugby with your commitment, sportsmanship and enjoyment of the occasion. We take pride in creating the best organised and largest Youth Rugby Festival in Europe but most of all we want you to go home happy, fulfilled and with an unforgettable life experience. Being part of the global Rugby community, building new friendships and enjoying the many attractions that Lisbon has to offer, these all play their part positively in the development of our youngsters.”
The high quality of refereeing throughout the two days resulted from a series of initiatives created by the organisers to raise standards. One of these was a tie up with the University of Gloucestershire, with two scholars from its elite Refereeing Academy invited to officiate. Ben Simpson 18, and Ben Wood, 20 were selected and their performances were so impressive that Wood was awarded the U19 boys final with Simpson running the line.
Next year’s Portugal Rugby Youth Festival takes place over the weekend of 4/5 April and bookings are now being taken. Visit www.portugalrugbyfestival.com for more details.