With the likes of Rugby World Cup 2023 sides Georgia, Romania and Portugal in the men’s Rugby Europe Championship, it would be fair to say that not many people were talking about Belgium before the tournament.
However, after round one of action in the eight-team event for 2024 last weekend, Belgium have been the only rugby nation on everyone’s lips in recent days.
They sensationally defeated Portugal 10-6 in the Stade Charles Tondreau in Mons last Saturday evening and, with them being 29th in the world before kick-off and Portugal 13th, it has now been confirmed as being a record-breaking triumph.
It was the biggest upset in World Rugby’s rankings history since the inception of the rankings way back in 2003.
After the match Belgium centre and captain Jens Torfs said: “We just wanted to give Portugal a good fight, we gave it everything we had. We wanted to show what Belgium and Belgian rugby is made of and I think we did that.
“The crowd was just amazing, they pushed us all the way, it was just exceptional.”
So, how did they do it?
Well, a penalty from Portugal stand-off Hugo Aubry gave them an early lead before Florian Remue, the Belgian centre, missed one of his own.
Belgium stand-off Hugo de Franq then scored a try converted by Remue before a flurry of yellow cards and then a Remue penalty made it 10-3 after 30 minutes.
An Aubry penalty made it 10-6 at the interval and things were set up for a thrilling second period.
And it was thrilling despite no points being scored with Belgium having to hold on while they had a player sin binned and, eventually, get over the line for a famous win which sparked wild celebrations.
Of course, anyone who watched the Rugby Europe Championship in 2023 will know all about the team spirit and battling qualities this Belgium squad possess.
They showed great character last March to come back from a tough run of results to defeat Poland 18-17 and finish seventh in the Rugby Europe Championship for that year.
“I am excited to play rugby with this team,” Torfs, the 31-year-old who has been around the group for a number of years after a first cap in 2011, said in an interview before this year’s tournament."
“We have got a really good group of players, it is a tight knit group of friends that work, fight and play together, so it’s always an honour to be on the pitch with them."
“In the coming weeks I’ll try to give everything for the boys and I know they will do the same for me."
“We are obviously aiming for a better overall result than last year, we want to keep making progress and I think that we can.
“We want to keep the progress made from last year going and give ourselves really solid foundations in the Championship.
“Something you will definitely see from this Belgium squad is passion, the national anthem before the games is very special to us and we want to gain some wins together and some special moments. ”
On March 17, the Rugby Europe Championship Finals will be held at the home of Stade Français at the Stade Jean Bouin in Paris.
All the teams will be involved in a real festival of rugby and Torfs added: “To have the finals in Paris are very exciting for Belgium as it is close to home and to play in a stadium and city with so much rugby history will be fantastic.”
Before that though here is plenty of action to come and for now all the skipper and his charges are only thinking about their Pool B match with Romania in the Arcul de Triumf stadium in Bucharest on Saturday at 2.30pm local time (12.30pm UTC).
Belgium are now 26th in the world with Romania, who won in Poland 20-8 last Sunday, 20th and Torfs said: “We know that Romania are a solid side and have some good players, but we have been working hard for opportunities like this.
“We have won one game, but we want to aim higher.”