Rugby Union

England announce return of ‘A team’ and reveal date of Portugal clash

Portugal enjoyed a breakthrough Rugby World Cup

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England A will take on Portugal during next season’s Six Nations after a breakthrough Rugby World Cup for the Iberian side.

The return of England’s second-string comes as Steve Borthwick seeks to develop the depth of his first-choice squad.

The fixture against Os Lobos will take place at Leicester’s Welford Road on Sunday 25 February, one day after Borthwick’s side take on Scotland at Murrayfield.

England A, formerly known as the Saxons, had been due to face a Scottish second-string side at the venue in 2021, but the match was called off after a Covid outbreak in the Scotland camp.

The last official Saxons fixture was in 2016 when a development squad secured a 2-0 series victory over South Africa A.

“It brings us great excitement to be renewing our A side in 2024,” said Conor O’Shea, executive director of performance rugby for England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU).

“Historically it has been a platform for some of the country’s next best players to showcase their talent whilst representing England.

“Portugal demonstrated their capabilities as a rugby nation on the world stage in recent months with their attacking flair and passion – we can’t wait for more of that in the new year. They are a team possessing many bright stars for the future and are a befitting opponent for our A squad.”

The fixture will come at a busy time for Portugal, who compete in the second-tier Rugby Europe Championship in February and March.

The nation achieved their first ever World Cup win against Fiji in Toulouse last month after a strong tournament that saw them push both Wales and Australia close and draw with Georgia.

Steve Borthwick will pick the England A side that faces Portugal in February

Frenchman Sebastien Bertrank has since replaced compatriot Patrice Lagisquet as Portugal head coach.

England’s selection, meanwhile, will be determined by head coach Borthwick and offer opportunities to those transitioning from U20 level into the senior team, as well as squad members not used in the Calcutta Cup clash the day before.

While Portugal have never played a full-strength England side, they were beaten 66-0 in an encounter with the Saxons in 2009.

Next year’s fixture is still subject to approval from World Rugby, who unveiled plans for a revamped rugby calendar featuring a two-tier “Nations Championship” during the week of the World Cup final.

The sport’s governing body has been criticised for blocking the progress of emerging nations like Portugal with their plans, but have insisted that the new competition will support their development and provide greater certainty of fixtures.

The RFU have given strong backing to a radical overhaul of the men’s international structure.

Portugal captured hearts during their World Cup campaign

“We’re all interested in growing the game globally,” explained Bill Sweeney, chief executive of the RFU, in October. “We saw Portugal and Chile, they were great competitors [at the World Cup].

“I think there are a number of factors [in the plans] that people should feel encouraged about in terms of emerging nations. One of the things you hear the emerging nations say a lot, it’s not just about wanting to play against so called tier one. It’s also having certainty around the number of fixtures they have. Some of the nations since the last World Cup just haven’t played enough rugby.

“What this does with the division one, division two structure, you’re guaranteed a certain number of fixtures there. I think it’s good news for the emerging nations.”

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