Portugal's 'enterprise' forces Wales to work hard for 28-8 win

Portugal certainly caught the eye against Wales in Nice
©(Photo by Michael Steele - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Wales put a well-needed four tries past a defiant Portgual side at Stade de Nice to secure a 28-8 win.

Despite it being Portugal’s first World Cup match in 16 years, the side oozed talent and forced Warren Gatland’s Wales to dig deep to record the victory.

Louis Rees-Zammit opened the scoring for Wales in the eighth minute after he chipped and gathered his own effort.

Rees-Zammit celebrated in 'Cristiano Ronaldo fashion' against the footballer’s nation, fitting given the Welsh winger supports the superstar's former club Manchester United.

Nicolas Martins was a stand-out player for Os Lobos and looked as though he was on the way to scoring in the first half. Taulupe Faletau provided excellent defence for Wales and sensing the danger of the Portuguese attack, sprinted back and put in an important cover tackle.

After a failed attempt at a drop-goal from full-back Nuno Sousa Guedes, Portugal got their first points of the World Cup through a Samuel Marques penalty.

With the clock in the red for half-time, captain Dewi Lake crossed to extend Wales’ lead from a quickly taken penalty and a drive to the line. At the break, Wales led 14-3 thanks to their two tries that were converted by Leigh Halfpenny.

Jac Morgan opened the scoring for Wales in the second half with a try in the 55th minute. Morgan, a last-minute replacement for Tommy Reffell, scored from a strong pick-and-go and Halfpenny added the extras.

Portugal’s first try of the tournament followed, created from a spellbinding passage of play from the lineout. A no-look pass from Rafael Simões in the air to Martins caught the Welsh defence unaware as the flanker darted to the line.

But their joy would turn to frustration as Vincent Pinto went on to receive a yellow card, later upgraded to a red in the off-field review, following an unnatural foot position after he took a ball in the air that collided with Josh Adams’ head.

With the clock in the red once again, it was Faletau who provided Wales with what could be a hugely valuable bonus point in the 82nd minute. The number eight went himself from the 18th scrum of the match, five metres out from the line to secure the all-important score.

Replacement fly-half Sam Costelow converted to make the final score 28-8.

Despite their valiant effort, Portugal’s captain - and former Darlington Mowden Park man - Tomás Appleton spoke of their frustration after the match.

The centre said: "At the end of the day, we didn't perform. We lost many areas of the game, we didn't have a solid scrum, we had too many mistakes in the backs. When we're playing at this level we get penalised and we suffer because of those mistakes.

"It's a problem for us. We couldn't quite show the rugby that we have, the good level of fast rugby that we can play and at the end of the day we're frustrated. We're not here to just be a presence at the World Cup. We're here to compete and we're here to win. Today we're frustrated."

Head coach Patrice Lagisquet spoke about the preparations his side have had to put in to be able to provide fierce competition on the biggest stage. He said: "Half of the group are amateur. We started to work really hard from the 26th of June and the goal was to be more physical, to be stronger, to be faster. The players and the staff have done a fantastic job.

"They were really ambitious with the way they were training and very committed. They can be proud of what they showed even if they didn't control the game the way they would or the way I would like because we share intentions but they really deserve their performance because they have worked very hard. For amateur players, you could see today that they wanted to compete physically.”

The potential of Portugal ensured it wasn't plain sailing for Wales in Nice but Wales head coach Gatland was pleased to take five points from the match.

"Happy with the bonus point that we got. If someone had said we'd have 10 points from the first two games, pretty happy with that.

"Look, there were aspects of today, one of them that we probably tried to play too much rugby early on and then didn't play a bit more territorially and more direct but also a lot of those players haven’t had a lot of rugby and making that many changes with a short turnaround, I spoke to them in the changing room and said 'job done'.

"We've got the five points so we can be happy with that and for some players to be honest about their own performance and where they can improve.

"It's not easy at the moment sitting in the box. That's a little bit stressful. The message at half time was that there were 21 minutes of ball in play time at half time so we had kind of done that job in terms of trying to take their feet away from them in terms of they were throwing everything at us in that first half, that first 20 minutes, and probably didn't have the same opportunities in the second half in terms of putting us under that sort of pressure.

"We probably didn't help ourselves as well in managing that. I said we were conscious of how important it was for us to get that bonus point at the end. It's good that we've given everyone in the squad an opportunity and some rugby. We can build a bit more time in terms of preparation for Australia and focus on looking forward to that.”

In addition, Gatland was also impressed by the performances from the likes of Portugal and Uruguay at the World Cup so far and what that brings to the sport.

"I thought Urugauy were outstanding [v France last Thursday], it was great. It's brilliant for the game,” he said. “We've seen a couple of blowouts but I think it's fantastic. With Portgual, I thought they played well and showed a lot of enterprise. You could argue that Uruguay were pretty unlucky with a few situations as well. We were aware of that and it's important that we continue from a rugby perspective to help develop these tier-two nations.

“Maybe there might be a situation where we're able to increase the number of teams in the World Cup to say 24 and then I think that would continue to help grow the game and that's an important aspect. You don't want top-tier nations dominating, you want upsets...as long as I'm not part of it!"

"It's a real positive in going forward to see teams competing and pushing other teams close."

The last meeting between Wales and Portugal back in 1994 ended with Os Lobos losing 102-11. This was anything but in Nice.

Portugal showed plenty of promise which they will look to harness in the weeks, months and years to come while for Wales, 10 points from 10 and on to Australia in Lyon.