Important win for Malta

Malta won a superb and much-needed victory against table topping Croatia at the Hibs stadium in Paola.

30 April 2011, 12:00am
Malta 21
Croatia 14

Mike Turner

It was a thrilling match of high skills and passion and at times, Malta played to the highest standard of rugby they have yet reached. It is hard to single out any individuals because every man who entered the pitch played well.

Croatia started with their backs to a near gale force wind, but immediately spoiled the advantage by miscalculating the strength and kicking dead. From the start the Malta forwards showed they were quicker of thought and action against a heavier pack. The back row of Calgaro, Howland and Sammut were constantly focused on the ball and worked fast enough to take the initiative by being first in after the ball time and again. The Holloway brothers at half back were a constant threat and varied their attacking moves, so keeping the tough tackling Croatians on the back foot.

Cassar and Watts at lock each had an effective game, being constantly the power house, and Watts scored the first try by driving over from a lineout and ruck.

Full back O’Brien, always a dangerous runner, opened the score with a penalty. Despite the huge wind against them, Malta were sharing the territory, which was an indicator of their superiority. Malta were leading 8-0 but against the run of play, Croatia struck back with a beautifully worked move which shredded the Maltese defence for a try under the posts, easily converted to bring the score at half time to 8-7

Malta started the second half backed by the wind, by imposing strong territorial pressure

O’Brien had two penalty attempts, but uncharacteristically made a hash of both.

Croatia had some good, brave runs out of defence because they had detected a defensive weakness through bad positioning on Malta’s right wing, but each time they were either caught out by speedy covering, or bad kicks ruined their effort.

Malta continued to apply pressure and a quick ball was spun out to Camilleri who forced over in the corner. Croatia managed some threatening attacks but inspired cover and telling kicks, especially by Tom Holloway, kept them out.

The Malta front row also had the better of their opponents in the tight scrums, even though they actually lost a put-in or two – they were always tighter and more controlling, which makes a big effect on the morale of the opposition.

As Malta piled on the pressure O’Brien found his kicking form again and added two penalties to stretch the lead. Malta lost impetus through injuries and Croatia fought back, with Stivala and Vassallo coming on as substitutes. Vassallo made an immediate effect with his controlled power.

Unfortunately, Kirk was yellow carded and Croatia showed they could play excellent rugby with a one man advantage to score lovely try with switch handling and angled running.

However, even with a man down Malta raised their game to storm into the corner and ended the match on the attack.

A good win for an ever improving side, and Mr Neill must be very satisfied, as must Captain Busuttil whose strategic decisions tackling were superb throughout.