Dubai: Portugal coach Federico Sousa believes his side face an uphill task if they are to bridge the gulf in class to the top teams in the HSBC Sevens World Series.
His side were knocked-out in the quarter-finals of the Dubai event by New Zealand 28-7 early on Saturday, despite shock group wins over traditional powerhouses South Africa and England on Friday. They qualified second from Pool C, behind Samoa only on points difference, before eventually losing the plate semi-final to Canada 28-12.
Their early successes followed similar shock results from Canada, who overturned France 20-0 and drew with Australia 28-28 to top Pool D, and Kenya, who finished second in Pool A behind Fiji after beating Scotland 12-5 and Spain 10-7.
Asked if this weekend’s action was evidence of a strengthening series, Sousa was in two minds. He told Gulf News: “I think there’s more attention from the smaller unions following the decision to make Sevens an Olympic sport. There’s a lot more support in terms of government funding and the attention has increased. As a result I think results in the series are becoming more competitive.
“But the bigger teams are still big because of the number of players available to them and the budget they have to spend. We simply can’t compare. A month’s budget for some of the teams here is probably what we have to spend over the course of a year.”
Sousa added: “We’re very realistic. We know our limitations against a very difficult team like New Zealand, but we just wanted to get on the ball more and reduce their lead. It should have been more competitive in terms of scoreline. In the end the result doesn’t really reflect the efforts we made as a team.
“Beating South Africa and England was good for morale and it gives us something to take forward, but we keep our feet on the ground. This series is getting more unpredictable. Last month at the Gold Coast we were down the bottom and this week we are up the top.
“Every team is difficult now and every team can have their day, you just have to work hard to stay competitive and the results will come.”
Following Portugal’s victory over England, which denied the 2010 and 2011 champions a shot at a hat-trick here, Red Roses coach Ben Ryan praised Sousa’s team.
Ryan said: “Portugal are a pretty decent side. Most of them play for the 15-a-side team that’s come close to going to World Cups and they’ve just knocked over the No 3 and No 4 sides in the world from last year [South Africa and England].
“The rugby community probably doesn’t understand that the likes of Portugal and Spain are probably as good as anyone else on their day. The best teams still win titles but surprises happen on a daily basis and we’ve just been subject to one of those.”