Diogo Hasse Ferreira Exclusive: 'This is going to give us a big boom just like in 2007'

Portugal secured their first-ever win at a Rugby World Cup against Fiji last Sunday
©Photo by Julian Finney - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images

Portugal’s attacking flair and expressive rugby captured the hearts of fans not only in their home country but everyone who tuned in to watch Os Lobos at the Rugby World Cup.

After an eye-catching display in their Pool C opener against Wales, they went on to draw with Georgia before also causing problems for Australia when they faced the Wallabies.

But it was Portugal's sensational victory over Fiji which brought this small rugby nation to everyone's attention and while there was a sense of the unknown about the side heading into the tournament, prop Diogo Hasse Ferreira says they went into the World Cup ready to surprise some people.

"We went in with a positive mindset - we didn’t want to just be there," he tells TRU. "We wanted to show something, but we also had no pressure on us. So we knew if we prepared ourselves well, then we could go out and surprise somebody, and obviously we did in the last game.

"We play Georgia every year and it is really tough to compete against them, so we knew it was going to be a tough World Cup when you consider our whole group."

Portugal did more than just compete against Georgia. Os Lobos took them all the way and were only a last-gasp missed penalty from victory. Instead, they had to settle for a draw, but two impressive performances against Wales and Australia  - topped off with their first-ever World Cup win - put the icing on the cake of a memorable few weeks.

Reflecting on the tournament, Ferreria and the rest of his side were obviously extremely happy with what they were able to achieve.

"I think we’re very pleased to be honest, especially to be able to finish the way we did - that was a big bonus. Throughout the whole campaign, we were very happy to just be out there, play our game and show everyone what we are capable of.

"The boys are now back in Portugal and still celebrating like they should be. They had a very warm welcome at home which was nice."

Arriving back on Tuesday night, the Portuguese squad were met at the airport by thousands of fans chanting and celebrating their success. It felt like a symbolic moment for the country, and Ferreria thinks the past few weeks will definitely have positive repercussions for rugby in Portugal.

"Hopefully this is going to give us a big boom in rugby in Portugal just like in 2007. I only found out about rugby after the World Cup in 2007 and there’s a few players like me who then went pro and developed and now play for the national team,” said the former Newcastle Falcon.

"Bearing in mind we didn’t get any results in 2007, but this time we got a win and a draw, I think that will mean a lot for the sport in Portugal.

"It also means the clubs and the union have to be prepared to provide young children when they want to start playing and show interest in the game. They need to be prepared to welcome them and to give them the facilities and everything they need to develop."

Portugal and Fiji have shown in this World Cup that tier-two nations deserve more chances to showcase their ability against tier-one sides during the four-year cycle between tournaments.

Playing games against the teams in the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship is the only way that tier-two nations can get better, and World Rugby needs to do more to give them these opportunities.

The governing body has underlined its commitment to helping developing nations gain more exposure to high-quality opposition after their performances in France.

"Right now, we don’t have that many chances and we were still able to show a bit of what we can do," said the tighthead. "So if we are given more chances throughout the four years in between World Cups, we will be able to progress even more, so hopefully we are given more opportunities against tier-one teams."

One of the tier-one nations that Os Lobos played and impressed against was Australia, and Ferreria believes despite the 34-14 loss, this game was one of the most important for him and his team.

"Playing against Australia was pretty cool, and I really enjoyed the game and playing in front of nearly 42,000 people. The whole day had a great vibe and it was so important because it prepared us for Fiji. We knew that after Australia, we needed to change a few things and we did.

"I also enjoyed playing against Angus Bell, he was really impressive. Not just because of his ability in the scrum, but also outside of the scrum he’s so active. He carries and defends so well and I enjoyed getting to play against him."

Ferriera became the first ever Portuguese player to play in the top level of English rugby when he debuted for Sale Sharks against Leicester Tigers in 2017, before then moving up to Newcastle Falcons. Alongside this, he also attended Durham University where he played BUCS rugby, a competition which he has fond memories of.

"It was really good times, the whole experience was amazing," he reflects. "Playing BUCS really prepared me for everything that came after, and the level was really good. Loads of senior academy players from the Premiership were playing in the league, so you knew every week the level was going to be high.

"It’s definitely a good pathway into professionalism for both English boys and boys who are not English too. It’s really well structured between the universities and the clubs, and I think it's a great opportunity to get a degree as well as starting your rugby career.

“Sometimes if you go straight into rugby, you can get stuck and won’t have had the chance to study a lot. It gives you good life experience, so it’s not just rugby and I think that’s really, really important."

It is clear Ferriera's time at university helped him become the player he is today, and he joins a talented list of players at this World Cup who have played BUCS rugby, including the likes of Aaron Wainwright, Christ Tshiunza and Dafydd Jenkins.

And it is Tshiunza and Jenkins' old side, Exeter University, who now top the current BUCS Super Rugby table after they beat Loughborough University 57-26 on Wednesday in a repeat of last year’s final, while Cardiff Met University defeated Ferriera's former team Durham University 29-22 to extend their winning streak.

Leeds Beckett University beat Bath University 29-19 to get their first victory in the competition since December, with wins also coming for Hartpury University and Swansea University against Cardiff University (50-17)  and Nottingham University (39-15) respectively.

In the Women’s National League, Loughborough kicked off their campaign in style with a convincing 49-7 win vs Durham University. Elsewhere, Edinburgh University beat Cardiff University 34-12 and Hartpury University got back to winning ways (18-10) against Cardiff Met University.

University rugby might be part of Ferreira's past but his time playing BUCS is something he has taken forward and France 2023 will undoubtedly be another experience that he, but more so Portgual, will look to harness.