Sebastian Ferreira: 'There are a high number players who will definitely end up winning high honours thanks to the Championship'

Sebastian Ferreira in international action for Germany
©Tobias Keil

In 2023, Sebastian Ferreira embarked on a new journey, signing with Championship side Nottingham Rugby and the German international talks to TRU about his new life in England.

The former Western Province academy player had his first spell on English shores in 2015 playing for Darlington Mowden Park before jumping to Bundesliga side Heidelberg. 

In that time, he became a Test match international, playing for Germany, and helping the Black Eagles to qualify for the 2018 Rugby World Cup Repechage tournament, finishing only behind Canada. 

In the autumn of 2020, he moved to Lisbon to play for CR São Miguel where he also started a new chapter in his life, enrolling in culinary school. That semi-pro life juggle extended to Nottingham, as he tells us in this TRU exclusive. 

‘That is what you want from a healthy and competitive league’

“The Championship is a great and viable league," begins Ferreira, as we focus on the second tier of English rugby.

"Take us, for example. We are in eighth and not too far away from reaching second, which is what you want from a healthy and competitive league.

"It’s also a hard competition in terms of collisions due to the size and athleticism of the players. On the other hand, there’s also a great number of fantastic tries being scored, coming from out of nowhere or going from one end of the field to the other.

“It’s an exciting league with varying gameplay, with forwards dominating in wet conditions, while backs prosper in dry ones with fast moves, scoring a vast number of tries.

“How would I sell the Championship to newcomers? Well, I would say the Championship has a ‘Friday Night’ game vibe, coming out of work to grab a few beers and watch some running rugby. 

"You can find young talents playing in teams across the board, due to agreements with the Premiership sides, and also old heads who add a lot of experience.”

For all of Ferreira’s positives about the Championship, the future of the second tier is still up in the air after clubs recently urged the Rugby Football Union to delay approving a new eight-year Professional Game Partnership agreement.

Championship sides are against proposals for a 'franchise Premiership Two’ league with Nottingham’s chairman, Alistair Bow, believing the RFU have used talks with clubs as a 'tick-box exercise.'

“Concerning the ongoing problems with the RFU and the Championship sides, as a player I definitely think the union should be supporting its homegrown leagues as the English rugby structure is based on a logic of top to bottom and vice-versa,“ Ferreira adds.

“As you’ve seen from the English squad announced for the Six Nations, a lot of them have actually played and earned some of their stripes in the Championship. There are a high number of young players who will definitely end up winning high honours thanks to the Championship so yes, there should be more support, better infrastructure, bigger squads, investing in more coaches, or the more niche things from rugby. You want to see that support from the union, not just in England but in all countries.

“Interestingly, this ongoing situation has created a sort of a buzz, with clips from games going around, promoting the unpredictability and exciting gameplay. Last year, Jersey, who unfortunately are not here anymore, won the league against all odds. There’s a real buzz that should be well-supported and cherished.

“You look to our Boxing Day when we played away at Coventry. They had a record number of attendants with just over 5,000 fans at the ground. If the buzz keeps going on, we have to find a way to pull more crowds to those sides who haven’t been able to do it. I think the more limelight we are exposed to, it will help the Championship to grow, and maybe achieve the same standard as the ProD2."

The Nottingham community 

At the start of 2024, Nottingham was hit by Storm Henk, causing a widespread flood which forced the county council to declare a major incident. Nottingham Rugby was equally affected by this after its ground - Lady Bay - was badly damaged but thankfully there is a happy ending to this story.

“When I first came to Nottingham, just before pre-season, I was expecting good crowds but not as packed as I’ve seen, and it has exceeded my expectations,” Ferreira says.

“The fans are very passionate and love to talk and mingle with us. Just last week, after a team event, fans came to us wishing us well and telling us they were looking forward to coming back to the Bay after the local flood disaster at the start of 2024. 

“The community was massive in overcoming those floods, as they helped us pump out the water, clean it, and get everything back to how it was before. The way the community came together, the number of support and donations, and the way everyone pitched in was really awesome and special and we won’t forget it. We are looking forward to seeing them again.

“As a club, I would define Nottingham Rugby in one word: community. I’ve already said it, but the way everyone came together to overcome the floods and get our “home” ready for the remainder of the season is the perfect example of who we are as a club.

“As a city, Nottingham is quite historical and unique, green and vibrant. The two universities play a massive role in it as well.”

A recipe for success?

Speaking of the universities, Ferreira moved to Nottingham last year to pursue higher education, a decision he would gladly make again.

“I started my culinary studies in Lisbon, and after completing them I wanted to continue so I enrolled at Nottingham Trent University. I got in touch with Nottingham and signed for two years [at the beginning of this season].

“It is quite easy to juggle when you enjoy doing both things. You just need to focus and make some sacrifices. Basically, my day starts with a gym session in the early morning, then I shoot off to classes for the whole day, and in the evening, I come back for practice. That’s my week at least three times.

“Yes, it’s a challenging life, especially after a game, as my fingers sometimes get dislocated, and I need them to go to class or work. It is manageable, and it takes its toll but, thankfully, I am not cooking that much now, so it isn’t a problem!

“I would advise players to get a degree, 100 per cent. I am a big advocate for upscaling yourself, especially when you are in an industry or career that’s limited to a certain time span. You never know what’s coming down the road, so it is heavily important that you find yourself a vocation or a full-time degree. It is possible, with the right sports structure and communication to do that, and I think every club and team should invest or allow players to invest in themselves.

“This semi-pro condition taught me to be more disciplined. It strengthens my daily routine and has also helped me to better communicate in my daily life as I have to jump from one ‘world’ to another. I need to be adaptable to the different situations, and this [going to university] allows you to develop your own personal skills.”

The international scene

The number of aspiring rugby players who are also focused on getting a degree continues to rise. With 11 current or former BUCS Super Rugby players [the top level of the university game] earning call-ups to squads for the forthcoming Six Nations, the option to balance rugby with higher education continues to become more appealing and more viable.

For Ferreira, while he hasn’t been involved with the student rugby scene during his time with Trent, he has played on the international stage for Germany. He does harbour hopes to do so again next month in the Rugby Europe Championship, and he is also looking towards the bigger picture for the nation.

"If I am selected, I will play for Germany against Spain and Netherlands, and I am quite excited to join and help them in every way I can," Ferreira adds when discussing the upcoming Rugby Europe Championship.

"My career is coming to a slow and steady halt, and this is potentially my last season with Germany as I'm heading for my last year of studying which will require a lot of focus. Germany is in a good spot in terms of development, they just need now more funding and support to push to qualify for World Cups.

"It's very hard to be consistent when you don't have a professional set-up and environment that allows you to train with the same group of people throughout the year. In the next couple of weeks, we will see where we are, and where we end up

"Without a more professional structure, players can't develop but I do believe there's enough talent and desire in Germany. I played with some of the younger boys last season, and there's the talent pool to fight for a better tomorrow."