Portugal out to justify core status in Dubai
As the team captains lined up at the start line in Australia at the Gold Coast Sevens in November, for three of them the experience was all the more nerve-jangling.
Canada, Spain and Portugal all earned the right to play in all nine rounds of the HSBC Sevens World Series this season at the 2012 Hong Kong Sevens.
All three have since been eager to impress and at the 2012 Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, Portugal has a second chance to justify their new status and take full advantage.
"Portugal is now a core team. We are really happy for that and I think it's going to be a great season for us," said Portugal captain Federico Oliveira.
"For Portugal, Sevens is not fully professional and we only have a group of 20 guys to practice. It's not a good level, but here, with these games, we can improve our skills and with nine tournaments we're definitely going to improve."
In Australia, Portugal failed to win a single match, suffering five defeats across the weekend at Skilled Park.
In their first match back as a core team, Portugal ran out against Wales and despite getting off to a blistering start which resulted in a 12-0 lead at half time, they were disappointed as the reigning RWC Sevens champions won 19-12 at the death.
Argentina outclassed them next up 26-0, but there were more positive signs in a 12-5 defeat to France.
On day two, as the top sides chased the Cup, Portugal arrived primed to compete in the Bowl and they found another of the new core teams Canada too good. The glum mood was compounded with a Shield semi final loss to Scotland, but it was an eye-opener with much to build on ahead of Dubai.
"We had two close games on day one that could have gone either way," said coach Federico Sousa.
"We'll learn from that. I think we’re very disappointed [after Gold Coast], but we still have a lot in front of us with the rest of the year and we’ll take this home, we’ll learn from our mistakes and we’ll become stronger and better for the next ones.”
Portugal have no better incentive either in Dubai than that of trying to match their achievements just two years ago at 7he Sevens when they memorably beat England for the first time.
A 14-12 victory on the opening day against England could give Portugal motivation as they face England again, as well as Samoa and South Africa in arguably the toughest pool.
"Now we only have to think about Dubai, it's the next tournament, we have to appear there with another face, with a clean face," added Oliveira, scorer of both tries in their victory against England in 2010.
But away from the pitch too, full time inclusion brings with it a whole host of added pressures and demands for the players, and the management.
“The biggest challenge is seeing how the Sevens is going," added Sousa.
"It’s becoming highly professional…the Olympics created a new dimension, and we need to be prepared, to step it up and keep up with the other teams.”
Portugal one of fifteen core teams, all of whom travel, live, eat and even train together on tour. It’s that touring element, and all the hidden pit falls that come with it, that the new core teams will have to learn to deal with in double quick time..
“There are lots of things you’ve got to find out, but, it’s what suits you, your players, and you’re management team," said Dai Jenkins, Wales' team manager.
"And each team has to find its own rhythm, and that’s the rhythm to the day, rhythm to the week, rhythm to the logistics, rhythm to training and recovery from training. It’s a very sharp learning curve, and you’ve got to pick up all those things pretty quickly!”