Malta rugby team loses to Bulgaria in season’s first international game

Bulgaria’s pressure shut down Malta’s running game, in this Conference 1 South, European Rugby competition, winning 21 to 14

Malta lost 21 to 14 against Bulgaria in the season's first international game (Photo: Evan Demicoli)
Malta lost 21 to 14 against Bulgaria in the season's first international game (Photo: Evan Demicoli)

Hibernian’s Stadium was in pristine condition, the sun was shining with a slight breeze blowing down the ground.

It was the start of Malta’s international rugby season, with this first game against Bulgaria, then to be followed a week later against Slovenia away.

The first half was all one-way traffic with Bulgaria calling the shots and Malta struggling to get out of their half.

It was all about resistance, trying to knock over the big Bulgarian forwards as they began to gain confidence.

The only time Malta got out of their half in the first 40 minutes was from the restarts after Bulgaria kicked their penalties.

Smilko Debrenliev(12) kicked penalties on 12, 25 and a huge kick from half way on 28 minutes taking the score Bulgaria 9, Malta 0.

A yellow card to Bulgaria’s winger Svetislav Odadzhiyski(11) opened a window of opportunity for Malta and they lifted their game briefly, finally moving the ball wide with some continuity.

But with one man down, back came the men in green to score wide out in the corner with Ilia Dimitrov(14) crashing over and Debrenliev drilling it with his boot.

The half time score was Bulgaria 16, Malta 0.

The second half started with Malta looking a bit livelier after Coach Damian Neill’s wind up at half time.

On attack a scrum penalty on five metres saved Bulgaria, frustrating Malta again as they got close to scoring.

The expected comeback in the second half just never happened as mistakes crept into Malta’s play: dropped passes, poor line outs and lost scrums, all attributed to their lack of go forward.

Bulgaria gained in confidence as the game wore on and started moving the ball around in the back and offloading in the forward. 

Malta spent all their time defending and their ball retention, when they had the ball, just wasn’t long enough to build any phase play and so stretch the big Bulgarian forwards.

The loss of playmaker and crack tackler Robert Holloway (10) to a shoulder injury in the first half caused a reshuffle in the backs with Dudman (13) moving into standoff. The Maltese forwards and backs were tackling like demons, but they were tiring in the second half, having put in over 100 tackles.

The two tries in the second half were a reward for some team work, with the forwards crashing it up, Liam Scicluna (18) scored after a patient build up, then Jethro Zammit Randich (15) scored wide out as the backs finally received some front foot ball to skirt the Bulgarian defence.

This was a challenging start to the International season and now it’s Slovenia up for the second game.

Despite a tough game, the 21 to 14 score line was not a thrashing. Malta scored two tries to Bulgaria’s two and some new club players were introduced to the international game and will improve by time. Now it’s time to regroup, lick the wounds and come out fighting!

Referee: Lukasz Jasinski (Poland)

Assistant referees: Mauro Miceli (Malta) Robert Diaconascu (Roumania)

Men of the Match: Bulgaria: Vasil Borisov (9) Malta: Thomas Holloway (9)