The King is Dead, Long Live the King… and the King is dead again.
While it isn’t the original saying, it perfectly encapsulates what has happened in Portuguese rugby in the last couple of days.
Sébastien Bertrank, appointed as the new head coach for the “Lobos” in the early days of October, resigned from his new role, justifying the decision due to time constraints and clashing with his daily job in the French Sports Ministry.
It is a shocking decision that sent the Portuguese Rugby Union into a frenzy, as the Lusitanos franchise is currently playing for a Rugby Europe Super Cup semi-final spot while the U20s are competing in the Rugby Europe Championship.
Portugal is again on the lookout for a new head coach, one who can hopefully fully dedicate to the cause and job. With the “world” watching closely, how they will proceed from here; time is of the essence as there are answers and doubts that need to be tackled.
When the World Cup was still going on, the thing that I was most afraid with Portugal was the aftermath— Francisco Isaac (@francisaac87) November 13, 2023
Well it seems I was not mistaken...the new head coach has just resigned due to time constrain reasons.
Ill times ahead? Or just a bump on the way to glory road?
How will Portugal replace Samuel Marques and Mike Tadjer? Who will be the next players taking the stand? Are there any new “kids” ready to play a major role in the new World Cup cycle?
Without spending too much time on Bertrank’s early departure, some details simply don’t add up, as the head coach in his official presentation explained he would work full-time with the union.
So, let me try to clarify what type of coach Portugal should be looking for:
- The same approach as Patrice Lagisquet [Portugal's head coach at the recent World Cup in France] in the employed tactical approach, making sure the team keeps being vicious at the breakdown, strong in the lineouts, quick to take their chances and risk playing the ball from their 22, 5, or goal area.
- Someone with some French rugby knowledge, able to build bridges with the professional side of the game
without despising the amateur background of the Portuguese one.
- To bring staff members able to optimise areas of the game such as physicality, conditioning,
and a winning mindset.
To summarise: a head coach with an international and good reputation, respected and experienced in dealing with senior players and staff. Though there are a couple of high-profile coaches lining up to be candidates, the financial problems of the Portuguese Rugby Union can be a challenging hurdle to overcome.
Former Uruguay head coach, Esteban Meneses, would be an interesting choice as he knows his way around an emerging nation and has worked with Daniel Hourcade in the past. The former Pumas head coach is now the regional performance director for Portugal and Spain.
Patrice Collazo, former head coach for La Rochelle, Toulon, and Brive, would be another name in contention, one that makes sense as he has a deep knowledge of the French rugby scene, a country that Portugal’s success depends on.
David Gérard, who helped coach the “Lobos” in the 2023 Rugby World Cup, and Luís Pissarra would also be good options, but both aren’t on the Union’s shortlist.
As the 2024 Men’s Rugby Europe Championship quickly approaches, Portugal will also have to set the foundations for their new “A” side to go to England and tackle England “A” as the fixture has some importance to it.
After the announcement, it was clearly perceptible that the fixture sits outside of the five international rugby weekends where the Portuguese Union is allowed to call upon semi-pro/professional players. It will now force them to pick a mixed team of youth talents and seasoned units that are trying to get back to the “Lobos” main squad.
The England “A” game - set to be played at Leicester Tigers in February of next year - would serve better in the summer or autumn Test match windows, as then Portugal would be able to field a stronger side, one that could even claim a historical win.
No dia 25 de fevereiro, às 13h, no Welford Road Stadium (Casa dos Leicester Tigers), os Lobos vão defrontar a Inglaterra "A"!??????— Portugal Rugby (@PortugalRugby) November 7, 2023
Pode comprar os seus bilhetes para ver os Lobos no Reino Unido no seguinte link:??https://t.co/tsRb7cBlw3#SN #Lobos #EspíritoLobo #SomosLobos pic.twitter.com/8KUQQVHrSp
Playing the match in England might not create a strong impact in Portugal either, as it won't create as much excitement as it would do if it was played in Lisbon, Porto, or Algarve.
The focus for the next four years is to build a bigger Portuguese fanbase, and high-profile games are one of the ways to go.
The new demands and interest from the international community is a double-edged sword, as with the
Portugal needs to step up, develop, and invest seriously in the professional side of the game so it doesn’t fail to make the best out of the opportunities being presented to them.
Sébastien Bertrank's fumble might look like a dreadful moment for the “Lobos”, but in hindsight, it might be exactly what needed to happen as now the Portuguese Rugby Union and the board will be pressured to deliver an option that can satisfy everyone’s needs and demands.