Ireland snatch victory from mighty Malta

Malta’s rugby league community put on a show, and for 56 minutes on Saturday night, they almost upset the world’s number seven ranked nation Ireland at the Melita Ground.

Malta's Andrew Muscat was in great form against Ireland. Photo by Andrew Mercieca
Malta's Andrew Muscat was in great form against Ireland. Photo by Andrew Mercieca

The Maltese, powered by no less than 10 domestic players, were up 20-18 at half-time, and it was only the last quarter of the match when Conor Mackey crossed and Rob Armstrong added his double that the Irish took the spoils.

MRL National Development Manager Anthony Micallef said the Irish didn’t expect the fight they received from Malta.

“The Irish are world rated. Their European tour of Serbia and Malta was surely one they expected two very comprehensive wins from. We made them fight much harder than they expected for that win here in Malta”, said Micallef.

Micallef believes the match was the perfect preparation for their World Cup hopes that kick off against Spain on September 26 in Valencia.

“We can’t really expect much more than that against such a team. Sure, a win would have been nicer. But that is the perfect platform to go into the Spain match with. There are 17 very proud players out there, and deservedly so, they just keep on improving from match to match”.

“We had more players than before simply playing a better game than usual. We’d had a couple of changes from our win over Belgium and the team adjusted well. Chris Parker has assumed the head coaching reins off the field like they were always his. And having him on the pitch during the game while he’s still playing at a high level, is great for the boys”.

The Maltese up 20-18 at half time, Conor Mackey and Rob Armstrong intervened late in the match to steal a victory from Malta’s grasps, a loss for the locals that will gain them international recognition.

Ireland wasted no time getting on the board, with man of the match Gareth Gill touching down in only the third minute, Casey Dunne kicking the first of his five conversions for the night.

Sam Blyton-Keep got the home side on the score sheet courtesy of a penalty goal after 10 minutes.

In a physical affair, the Maltese and Irish level-pegged throughout the first half, Jean-Pierre Zarb getting Malta’s first four-pointer after a nice backline movement.

The Maltese crowd turned out in numbers, and with some vocal Irish support of their own, Conor Mackey touched down for the visitors in the 25th minute and prop Jake Lynch put Malta’s noses in front again on the half hour.

On debut, the Medway Dragons’ centre Kaine Dimech scored and Sam Blyton-Keep slotted the extras to give Malta an eight-point lead at 20-12.

Skipper and fullback Casey Dunne kept the Irish hopes alive as he converted his own try on the stroke of half time.

After a half that saw each team heap pressure on themselves with handling errors in their own half, the teams returned for the last forty with referee Aleksandar Markovic warning both teams of infringements he would not tolerate in the final stanza.

After the expected tussle in the third period, centre Clark McAllister then gave Ireland the lead late in the match, a 24-20 lead they wouldn’t surrender.

Armstrong crossed with 12 minutes to go, and with Malta attacking the Irish line in the dying stages, he took an intercept and raced 80 metres to seal his double and a Wolfhounds victory.

Malta skipper and interim head coach Chris Parker praised the Malta team, singling out wingers Julian Caruana from Stompers RL and Jean-Pierre Zarb from Crusaders RL.

He added it was the contest against the Irish was one of the toughest he’d played in, “It was one of the most physical games I’ve been involved in. And the players really stood up” said Parker.

“Our two wingers Julian and Jean-Pierre were excellent, coming in and taking some of the pressure off the middle”.

Malta’s Andrew Muscat was named as Malta’s best, Ireland’s Gareth Gill the player of the match. Jake Lynch, Danny Burke and Kaine Dimech other standouts in a proud Malta performance against Europe’s third best rugby league team.

Casey Dunne ©, Rob Armstrong, Anthony Leifi, Clark McAllister, Ashley Finlay, Nick Finlay, James Kelly, Gareth Gill, Shane Kelly, John Purdy, Gerard Arthurs, Wayne Kerr, Chris Hall. Int: Brían Bennett, Conor Mackey, Shane Heffernan, Peter Ryan.

Andrew Muscat, Jean-Pierre Zarb, Christian Briffa, Kaine Dimech, Julian Caruana, Malcolm Attard, Danny Burke, Peter Debono, Justin Barlogio, Jake Lynch, Sam Blyton-Keep, Kyal Greene, Chris Parker ©. Int:  Joseph Pio Mizzi, Jeremy Dela, Peter Ingham, Robin Cutajar.

Ireland 34 (R.Armstrong 2, G.Gill, C.Mackey, C.Dunne, C.McAllister tries; C.Dunne 5 from 6 goals) defeated
Malta 22 (J.P.Zarb, J.Lynch, K.Dimech tries; S.Blyton-Keep 5 from 6 goals)
H-T: Mlt 20-18

Ref: Aleksandar Markovic (SRB)
Touch-Judges: Jake Oliveira (AUS) and Eman Borg (MLT)
Player of the match: Gareth Gill (IRE) and Andrew Muscat (MLT)
At Melita FC, Pembroke, Malta.

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