• “We have to be at our best to beat them,” said Appleton. “We’re confident we’re going to show our best rugby but know the reality.”
• Wales have made 13 changes from the side that defeated Fiji and Lagisquet understands counterpart Warren Gatland’s reasons for doing so with Australia their next opponents.
Portugal captain Tomas Appleton says his side know the enormity of attempting to cause one of the great World Cup upsets by defeating Wales in Nice on Saturday.
Portugal will play their first World Cup game in 16 years against a Wales side who opened the 2023 campaign with a 32-26 win over Fiji.
“We have to be at our best to beat them,” said Appleton. “We’re confident we’re going to show our best rugby but know the reality.”
Appleton added: “Wales have been one of the best teams in the world for the last few years. They are not at their best level at the moment, but it’s still a long way for us to go to be at their level.”
Wales and Portugal have only met once before, in a World Cup qualifier in 1994, when Wales won 102-11 as wing Nigel Walker scored four of their 16 tries. The Portugal class of 2023 are coached by former France wing Patrice Lagisquet.
“I don’t have a crystal ball to say how we can beat Wales,” said Lagisquet. “I have tried to think about that for many months. If I found a key, I wouldn’t tell. We have to try to play our best and show we have improved in key areas of the game.
“We try to have no weakness, but it’s difficult when you play a team like Wales, who played in the semi-final of the last World Cup, although maybe they have not been at their best level recently.
“Against Fiji, Wales defended with 253 tackles. We can’t repeat the strategy of Fiji. We don’t have the power. We will try to play with our identity.”
Wales have made 13 changes from the side that defeated Fiji and Lagisquet understands counterpart Warren Gatland’s reasons for doing so with Australia their next opponents.
“We know the way Fiji play, they are so physical,” he said. “If you think about the team as coach then you will change a lot of players as international games are tough.
“Fiji and Australia are the two most physical teams in the pool. It’s logical to make that choice.
“We know the way they play is always organised. Maybe they will change some things we are not ready for, then we will discover that during the game”
Portugal are known as ‘Os Lobos’, meaning ‘The Wolves’. It is considered an apt name because they aim to play a style based on movement and speed with Warren Gatland even comparing Portugal to Fiji.
Wing Rodrigo Marta has scored eight tries in five Tests this season, including four against Poland at the Rugby Europe Championship.
Lagisquet is unsure whether the expected rain in Nice this weekend will allow Portugal to play their expansive style.
“We won’t send the ball to the wings immediately,” said Lagisquet. “We will have to adapt. We will have to play rugby that can be competitive given the weather conditions.”
Recent form has been strong, notably a 46-20 World Cup warm-up win against the United States and a battling loss to Australia A.
Portugal claimed the last place in the World Cup after snatching a 16-16 draw against USA in their final qualifier with a last-minute penalty from Samuel Marques.
After already defeating Kenya and Hong Kong, Portugal won the four-team final qualifying tournament in Dubai in November 2022 on points difference. The prize was a place in Pool ‘C’ against Wales, Fiji, Australia and Georgia.
“Nobody is expecting Portugal to qualify for the quarter-finals of this tournament, but all the players want to show they deserve to be at this World Cup and they can play good rugby,” said Lagisquet.
Like a number of the Portugal squad, Marques holds dual French-Portuguese nationality. While the majority of the starting side play club rugby in France, hooker Mike Tadjer is the only player who plays in the Top 14, for Perpignan.
Four players in the squad, Anthony Alves, Joris Moura, Steevy Cerqueira and Vincent Pinto represented France at age-grade level with wing Pinto winning the World Rugby Under-20 Championships in 2019.
This is Portugal’s second appearance at the World Cup, having played in 2007 in France.
The Portuguese lost four matches 16 years ago when they endured defeats by Scotland (56-10), New Zealand (108-13), Italy (31-5) and Romania (14-10). Despite the results, they gave motivation to a new generation.
“The 2007 squad inspired some of these players to play at their very best,” said Appleton. “We want to inspire young kids to play and grow rugby in Portugal. As players, it’s special to be amongst the best in the world and we want to show our qualities and our best rugby.”
Appleton, 30, is the most capped player in the Portugal squad with 62 internationals and has been captain since 2019.
“Every young kid, every young generation needs a team to look up to and one that wins and gets results,” said Appleton. “To be present at a World Cup is the best result we could get.”