IRB Nations Cup
Chris Thau rounds up the action on final day of the IRB Nations Cup at the Arcul de Triumf Stadium in Bucharest.
Scotland A defeated France A 22-12 in the final match of the 2009 IRB Nations Cup to claim this year's crown.
From the moment fly half Ruaridh Jackson kicked a penalty in the third minute of the first half, Scotland A were never headed by their opponents in an absorbing finale to the tournament, held at the stadionul National Arcul de Triumf in Bucharest.
Italy A defeated Romania 24-13 in the second match on the final day to claim second place ahead of France A.
Earlier Russia defeated Uruguay 29-26 in the first match to secure fifth place.
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Scotland A 22-12 France A
This was a fascinating lesson in pragmatic rugby, based on a solid defence and self belief administered by a young Scottish side to a French team brimming with talent and flair. It was the structure of the Scottish game and the determination of Andy Robinson's young brigade to prevail that won Scotland A the IRB Nations Cup.
To add insult to injury, due to the peculiarities of the points system of the Nations Cup, the 10 point difference between the two sides downgraded the French to bronze medal position, with the Italians promoted to runners up. The Scottish performance was based on an outstanding defensive effort, for which much credit must be given to former GB Rugby League star Graham Steadman, who took over the role of defence coach in the wake of Alan Tait's retirement.
Based on such solid defence, the Scots capitalised on French errors and haste, with young Glasgow Warriors fly half Ruaridh Jackson tormenting the opposition with his accurate place kicking.
At half time Scotland A led 12-3 and soon after the break they extended their lead to 15-3. The fifth successful Scottish penalty acted as a cold shower for the French, who swung back into their brand of high intensity, high velocity rugby. "In fairness, they played some sublime rugby during that period, but credit to our boys, they stuck to their guns and managed to contain the French revival, and in the end scored a beautiful try," observed coach Robinson.
The French scored two penalties through their centre Fabrice Estebanez, and a drop goal by fly half Regis Lespinas to come within three points of the wilting Scots.
But this was not a one-dimensional Scottish performance, by any means. In the early part of the game they ran the ball at every opportunity, varying the angles and the distribution, with Chris Cusiter, who has decided to return to Scotland after his spell with Perpignan, having an outstanding game. The man who instilled confidence and an obvious degree of expertise in the Scottish game is their attack coach Gregor Townsend, the former Scotland fly half.
As the French were preparing to administer the killer blow, a Scottish counterattack took them back into the French territory, where some pieces of magic as well as sheer luck saw number 8 Richie Vernon running in for the only try of the match, converted by Jackson.
The French bounced back into attack, but the Scottish defence withstood everything their opponents threw at them.
"It was a performance full of character, based on two weeks of hard work with Andy Robinson and we are delighted with it," Cusiter said.
Romania 13-24 Italy A
Italy A came from behind to defeat Romania and in doing so secure second place in the IRB Nations Cup ahead of France A, thanks to a superior points difference.
The first half, a mostly forgettable affair, with both sides engaged in unspectacular guerrilla warfare, forced Irish referee John Lacey to endlessly penalise both in an attempt to introduce a semblance of order and discipline.
It is difficult to pinpoint with accuracy who was the main culprit, but it was quite clear that both sides incurred his displeasure at the breakdown for a variety of reasons from surreptitiously entering offside to not releasing the ball.
To add a sense of seasonal unreality to this early exchanges, the top tournament scorer, Italy's Riccardo Bocchino, who seemed to be able to kick from anywhere in the previous matches, failed with no less than four eminently kickable penalties, one of which hit the upright. At half time the 3-3 score, with the two sides having scored one penalty each, reflected the poverty of the first 40 minutes.
The second half started in a much more positive fashion and as the penalty count decreased the quality of rugby went up. Iulian Dumitras made a break that took him within a couple of yards of the Italian line, a move that after some delay eventually lead to scrum half Calafeteanu sprinting alongside the touchline for the game's first try. This somehow uncorked the game, which started flowing, still full of errors and without a discernable pattern.
Italy A captain Antonio Pavanello, helped by the Fijian-born number 8 Manoa Vosavai, led the fight back and scored the first Italian try, breaking through the depleted Romanian defence.
The Italians scored two more tries through their lively centre Andrea Pratichetti and replacement Andrea Bacchetti.
Russia 29-26 Romania
Russia scored four tries to Uruguay's two as they claimed fifth place in the IRB Nations Cup with a hard fought 29-26 victory in the first match on the final day of the tournament.
The match materialised as advertised, with the Uruguayan battering ram trying to subdue the resolute Russian defence and the Russians creating space and opportunities for their fleet-footed runners.
It was an epic battle that stirred the emotions of the expectant crowd gathering for the final day in Bucharest. And, in the end it was the Russian attacking flair well-orchestrated by their talismanic fly half Alexandr Yanyushkin that won the day against a remarkably competent Uruguayan team playing their hearts out in the afternoon heat in the first match of the day.
Finding the solid, yet predictable Uruguayan defence less rigorous than that of the Scots or the Italians, the Russians were able to express their attacking potential far better than in their previous matches.
They scored four tries, ably marshalled by Yanyushkin, who finally clicked after several mis-starts during the previous rounds. The diminutive fly half scored 17 points including two tries, either side of the break. The Uruguayans opened the scoring with a well-rehearsed move, which ended with a drop goal by full back Jeronimo Etcheverry. Their forwards drove the Russians backwards creating space on the left, scrum half Campomar linked up with captain Joaquin Pastore, who slowed down the move accepting the tackle to create the breakdown at centre. The ball reached Etcheverry positioned some 10 yards back and he calmly dropped the goal.
The Russians responded in style with their outstanding blindside flanker Victor Gresev breaking several tackles to create the opportunity for their right wing Vladimir Ostroushko, who brushed aside Etcheverry to score the first try of the match.
A further try, engineered by Gresev, with the entire Russian back division in assistance, ended with Yanyushkin going over for the first of his two tries. The brave Teros returned to attack and veteran loosehead prop Rodrigo Sanchez went over for his side's first try following a driving maul that took them from the edge of the 22 into the Russian in goal area. The conversion by fly half Nicholas Morales enabled Uruguay to start the second half with a slender one-point advantage.
A penalty signed off Yanyushkin helped Russia regain the lead, but with Morales returning the favour Uruguay slipped back to the top, the last time they took the lead in the match.
Five minutes later Yanyushkin, the sorcerer, produced another piece of magic to score the third Russian try, which he also converted. Another penalty by Etcheverry closed the gap to three points, but the Russian hooker Sergey Bazhenov burrowed his way through for their fourth try, which Kushnarev, who replaced Yanyushkin, converted. Bazhenov's opposite number Martin Espiga scored a try with three minutes remaining, but it was too little too late.
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