Portugal captain Tomás Appleton and Mike Tadjer laugh during a Rugby World Cup 2023 press conference.
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Inside View – Article 1

Nature, nurture, and brotherhood

Family portraits at Rugby World Cup 2023

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We shift the focus away from the floodlights and roaring crowds at the Rugby World Cup 2023 to reveal what lies behind the white lines. Is it nature or nurture that defines the destinies of its players? How do memories of the past shape their futures? And is family more than blood? In the first article in our Inside View series, shining a new light on rugby, Portugal players Jerónimo Portela, João Granate, and Mike Tadjer tell their story – in their own words, through their own lens.

The road to Rugby World Cup 2023 is longer than you might think. For some, it stretches back to the moment they first picked up a ball. For others, it begins before they were even born.

Is it in your blood to start down that road? In the town you grew up in? Who you were raised by, or who you were raised with? Is your position on the pitch defined by your position in life?

To fully understand someone’s story, you must look at it from different angles, from fresh perspectives, in a different light. We believe that changing the way you see something can change the way you see the world. It’s why we’re taking a different, inside view of Rugby World Cup 2023 – by empowering players to tell their own story.

In doing so, we see a more surprising, more tender picture: one of love, of pride, and of family.

FROM FATHER TO SON

Lots of people struggle to see themselves in their parents. Some grow up to be the opposites of their mothers or fathers – in appearance, in behaviour, in attitude and or lifestyle – either by design or by coincidence. But others seem predestined to walk the same path.

As young boys, Portugal’s Jerónimo Portela and João Granate idolised their fathers and would eventually follow in their footsteps. Both men played vital roles in Portugal’s only previous appearance at a Rugby World Cup, an experience that played a monumental role in shaping their sons’ characters and career choices.

“My dad was the team doctor,” João says, proudly remembering the 2007 tournament. “He was always with the team, so I was the No.1 supporter.”

I ALWAYS FELT NERVOUS WATCHING MY DAD”

The closeness to that team – combined with his father’s unwavering work ethic and Portugal’s match against one of the sport’s very best – set João on course to representing his country too.

“I got to see Portugal play against New Zealand live,” he says. “It was one of the most incredible moments of my life – seeing the All Blacks, the best team ever, play against players that I knew because of my father.

“The atmosphere was so amazing. It was one of my dreams come true.”

We believe that everyone should be empowered to tell their own story. That’s why we’ve given players from the Portugal rugby team, like João and Jerónimo, cameras to document their lives in sport, and life all around it.

A young boy with face paint in the colours of the Portuguese flag with a young Jerónimo Portela in the crowd

Jerónimo Portela supporting his father, Miguel, representing Portugal (Source - archive images supplied by players)

Two young boys, Sandro and Andrea Tadjer, watch from the sidelines of a rugby pitch

Sandro and Andrea Tadjer, watching their father, Mike. (Source - family archive)

Miguel Portela as a player, with his three children, including Jerónimo Portela, holding a trophy

Jerónimo sharing a club trophy with his family. (Source - family archive)

João Granite’s father, wearing a tracksuit and a lanyard, stands at the side of a pitch in a full stadium

João Granate’s father in 2007. (Source - family archive)

Jerónimo’s father Miguel, who played more than 50 times for Portugal, was part of the 2007 squad. And although Jerónimo was only six, the raw passion of the fans and the team stayed with him.

“I always felt nervous watching my dad,” he says, smiling. “He really liked contact and tackles and carrying the ball, so every time he played, I was nervous.”

“I remember the first game against Scotland, when they were singing the anthem. It was a very big emotion, a very pretty moment, and it inspired me. It was one of the reasons I started to play rugby.”

THE MOTHER OF ALL INSPIRATION

It would be an oversimplification to suggest that rugby players are merely a product of rugby-playing fathers. They are built by their environments, their siblings, their experiences, their memories, and, of course, their mothers.

As John Steinbeck said, “perhaps it takes courage to raise children.” That’s certainly true when your child is dedicated to a physical contact sport like rugby.

“For my mother, I think it was worse,” Jerónimo says, “but she was the best supporter”.

And although watching their sons may have been trying, the players’ mothers influenced a huge part of their personalities and ambitions.

Mike Tadjer, Portugal’s hooker, talks about his mother with love and adoration. She is Syrian and was born in Madagascar, before moving to France at a young age. Mike talks about her relentless drive and work ethic, something he’s proud to have inherited.

João Granite, wearing a red Portugal jersey, and his mother smile at the camera

More recent images of João with his mother. (Source - archive photos supplied by players)

A young Jerónimo Portela stands with his arms in the air among other Portugal rugby supporters in a stadium

A young Jerónimo cheering his father on. (Source - family archive)

João Granite, wearing a red Portugal jersey, kisses his father’s head at the side of a rugby pitch

João celebrates with his father. (Source - family archive)

Jerónimo Portela (right), standing next to his father (centre) and a team-mate, wearing red-and-black rugby jerseys while holding a trophy

Miguel taking his turn to celebrate Jerónimo’s success. (Source - family archive)

“I saw my mum every day wake up and start at five in the morning to go to work and she never gave up,” he says. “She had like three jobs per day to earn money to make the food and everything.

“I saw my mum and dad fighting to work. And to make me and my brother and sister have a good life. I hope they’re proud of me.”

“That’s why I do the career I do – because I never give up. Even if I’m not the fastest or the quickest, I work. It’s the thing from my mum.”

I saw my mum fighting to work”

João also inherited traits from his mother that make him a better player and person.

“From my mother I have the ability to take care of my team-mates and partners,” he says. “To treat the team like family. I also have a good stubbornness, to never quit.”

Meanwhile, Jerónimo credits his own mother, not simply for being a “No. 1 fan” of him and his father, but because of the qualities she helped him develop.

“From my mother I think I got more of the intelligence of her – I hope! – and all the things to be disciplined.”

HOME IS WHERE THE FAMILY IS

Who we consider family isn’t as straightforward as who you’re raised by or who you’re raised with. Family is where you feel at home, where you feel belonging.

In Mike’s case, his sense of family and belonging comes from a range of places. His football-loving father is Portuguese, but Mike was eligible to play for Syria or France. Massy, near Paris, may be “home”, but he absorbed the spirit of generosity and kindness from all three nations.

“I went to Syria for my sister’s wedding,” he says. “It’s a beautiful country, the culture is awesome, and the people are kind: they have nothing, but they share everything.

“Portugal, it’s the same, they share everything. It’s really good to have a country like this because it’s my values too: to give everything, to share everything.”

LOOKING TO THE NEXT GENERATION

Family doesn’t stand still. Not only does it impact the direction of our lives, it also changes as our lives go on. In time, our families shrink, or grow – especially with the arrival of children.

They say that children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate. Whether they choose to play rugby or not, Mike and Jerónimo share that hope for their own children.

The pair have interesting perspectives on whether they’ll follow in their footsteps. Mike has two sons, while Jerónimo and his wife are preparing for the birth of their first daughter.

“I hope one day when I’m older I can go and support them in the stadium too,” Mike says. “That’s what I think is the most beautiful thing for me – a father with his son – I would like to do the same thing.”

When it comes to his daughter, Jerónimo isn’t so sure.

“For sure, she will come to see my games and live the rugby life like my mother, my wife, and my sisters,” he says. “If she wants to play rugby, I will not say no but I’m not sure my wife will let her.”

The players are using the Canon PowerShot V10 to take us behind the scenes at Rugby World Cup 2023.

Mike Tadjer stands next to a floodlit rugby pitch wearing a Portugal rugby jersey, standing next to his wife, and holding his young sons.

Mike Tadjer with his wife and sons. (Source - archive images supplied by Mike)

An image of the Portugal rugby players during the cap ceremony ahead of Rugby World Cup 2023

The players enjoying the moment.

Mike Tadjer holds his young son affectionately on a rugby pitch

Holding his young son on the pitch. (Source - family archive)

Jerónimo Portela smiles while wearing the Portugal rugby cap and a blazer

Jerónimo looking proud at the cap ceremony.

THE BOND OF BROTHERS

Not all brothers have the same parents. Sharing the same highs and lows with the people we meet later in life also helps shape who we are as human beings.

To understand this group of players, you need to understand what they mean by brotherhood.

For them, brotherhood isn’t just defined by genetics (they all have siblings). It’s also about who you share the dressing room with.

“Some of the guys I’m really close with, like Jerónimo,” João says. “I was at his wedding and we’ve been through tough times together. Jerónimo is like my youngest brother.”

Jerónimo agrees. “We started to build this since the beginning and now we’re like family,” he says, before adding with a smile, “I’ve spent more time with João in these past four years than probably with my wife!”

One man puts his arm around another, while they smile at one another on a training pitch
A close-up picture of grass on a rugby pitch

You can be the best player in the world, but you can do nothing if you’re alone”

For Mike, this form of brotherhood doesn’t just change who you are as a person, it dictates how successful you can be as a team.

“You can be the best player in the world, but you can do nothing if you’re alone,” he says. “You need to be a team; you need to be a friend.” 

“You need to have this link between you and the other guys, even if you don’t like them. Because he’s your team-mate. And on the field, he is like you mother, your father, your friends, your brother. If you’re selfish, you don’t succeed. We need to be together and like brothers to play and win the game.”

SEEING WHO WE REALLY ARE

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