Lisbon, Portugal – Thanks to our mate, Joao Miguel Garcia – who was the New York Rugby Club 2010-2011 forwards coach – was fortunate enough to get a chance to interview Portuguese Rugby star Pedro Leal.
JB: Pedro, thanks for coming on Rugby Wrap Up. Let’s start with your National 7s team. Portugal’s performance this year in the HSBC 7s has been impressive. What do you attribute it to?
Pedro: Glad to be here and that’s good place to start. A main reason for our success this season is that since August most of the players (15) dedicated themselves only to 7s, and the experience that we have from the European 7s Championship Series earlier this year, has really helped.
JB: Players often have different views of success than fans. What are your thoughts on the performances overall?
Pedro: In Australia (Gold Coast 7s), we were really poor. We lost all matches. We practiced a lot but it wasn’t enough and that was noted. After Australia, we restructured the team, got more confidence and brought some young players in… In Dubai, even though we lost against Samoa, we played well and gained confidence. Then we made history winning against South Africa for the first time. We began to believe nothing is impossible, which we showed by beating England… also for the first time. 🙂 …In Port Elizabeth (Nelson Mandela Bay 7s), we had a more favorable group – however complicated – and we managed to qualifiy again for the cup; the first time we did it twice in a row, so we were pleased with that.
JB: What is the team’s short-term and most attainable goal?
Pedro: Our goal is to earn the maximum points possible and go to the cup bracket in our next tournament. Then, if possible, try to go to a semi final for the cup.
JB: Looking at your success so far, what is the strength of the team?
Pedro: The strength of the team is the friendship and the team spirit. You have a couple of players with a lot of experience – like me. Then we mix in youth (4 players with 18) with a lot of quality, but we basically have only 15 players to train for sevens.
JB: So, it is that small but tight knit group that is the key, good to know.
JB: Let’s talk about you a bit. You had a pro contract playing for Nice in the French 2nd Division. What went wrong in Nice? Why did you leave?
Pedro: Nothing went wrong. Personally, I got along with my teammates and the season went very well. I was able to achieve top points and try scorer of the team and the championship. But in the end, the club had financial problems, so I had to leave – like most other players.
JB: After Nice, you were still thinking of devoting yourself to professional club rugby, even if that would mean you stopped playing sevens. What made you change your decision?
Pedro: I still want to devote myself to professional club rugby and despite the fact that I had the opportunity to stay in France and play for another club, I decided to return to Portugal to play in the HSBC 7’s World Series and help us qualify for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
JB: Not very many players can play high level rugby in 3 positions; scrumhalf, flyhalf, fullback. Which is you favorite position?
Pedro: I love to play at fullback but my favorite position is scrumhalf. However, in the last test matches, I played at flyhalf for Portugal, which I have no problem with because that is where the coach and National Team need me to play. And I always play the best that I can no matter what position.
JB: February presents a schedule conflict for you. There will be the European Nations Cup (aka 6N “B”) but also the Wellington, New Zealand and Las Vegas, USA stops of the HSBC Sevens Series. Jonathan Wiclow Barberie would love to meet up with you in Vegas. Are you going to be in the 7s squad or in the 15s squad?
Pedro: The priority for Portuguese Rugby is 15s, so I think I’m going to play with the 15 squad to try and ensure qualification to the Rugby World Cup. Although I would love to go to Wellington and Las Vegas, because I’ve never been there.
JB: Away from the field, what are the conditions the Federação Portuguesa de Rugby is offering to the players in the 7 group?
Pedro: With all do respect, I’d rather not get into that. I don’t want anything to be taken out of context but I can tell you that it is below the average. Let’s just leave it at that, if you don’t mind.
JB: Understood. If it’s any consolation, it’s below average here in the States as well.
JB: Let’s downshift… Could you give us a player we should watch out for in the next couple of seasons?
Pedro: I would say Adérito Esteves. Big and powerful. If he is on his game he can be unstoppable. Then the young Francisco Vieira de Almeida and 3 players who are only 18; José Vareta, Pedro Bettencourt and Nuno Guedes. They have a lot of potential.
JB: What’s it like playing against speed guys like RWU correspondent Mathew Drew Turner, his England mate Daniel Norton and Team USA speedster Carlin Isles?
Pedro: Not easy! I would rather have them on my team than play against them and would love to have some speedster on my team! They are really rapid! You can’t give them space to run!
JB: Out of your 37(?) caps for your country, which was your most memorable? How cool was it playing in the RWC?
Pedro: Well, in XVs I have 62 caps and in 7’s it’s 36 tournaments… It’s really amazing to play on the Circuit, but the most memorable was playing on the RWC in France 2007. Playing against New Zealand and seeing the haka was unforgettable! I’ll also never forget my first World Cup 2005 in Hong Kong. We lost in the Plate Final against Samoa but it was unforgettable as well.
JB: Excellent… Final two questions: Which player on the team, does the best impression of the Head Coach Frederico Sousa?
Pedro: Hmmm… me! lol
JB: Pedro, thank you very much for your time. We wish you lots of luck for the rest of the 7s Series and ENCs.
Pedro: Thanks for having me and best of luck to you, too.
And as always… stay low and keep pumping those legs.