Chris Thau reports from Bucharest
Hosts Romania, the South African Kings and Portugal all got their 2011 IRB Nations Cup campaigns off to winning starts in Bucharest with respective wins against Namibia, defending champions Georgia and the Argentina Jaguars.
The second round of matches are to be played on 15 June with Georgia taking on the Argentina Jaguars, Romania playing the SA Kings and Portugal facing Namibia.
Romania 13-11 Namibia
In the opening match of the 2011 IRB Nations Cup hosts Romania edged fellow Rugby World Cup qualifiers Namibia 13-11 in Bucharest.
Reigning Nations Cup holders Namibia featured 11 of their 2010 vintage, but narrowly failed in their quest to subdue a fairly pedestrian Romanian side in the opening match of the IRB Nations Cup in Bucharest.
“We failed to take our chances and although we did not play badly, we failed to put points on the board, which in the end cost us dearly, as we had to play catch-up rugby,” said Namibian coach, Johan Diergaardt.
The Romanians on the other hand, took advantage of the Namibians' shaky start and the sin-binning of tight head Jane de Toit to score a valuable try through their burly number 8, Daniel Carpo.
With the hosts leading 13-3 at the break, Namibia needed to score first in the second half, and did so through full back Chrysnder Botha. But the defensive bonus point was all they could muster as the stern Romanian defence held firm and a string of unforced errors and countless penalties doomed the efforts of both teams to add to their tally.
“At the end of the day a win is a win, though we did not play to our full potential and made too many unforced errors, both individual and as a team. But we are in the early stages of preparation, personally this was my first match since February and we need a few more days to gel together,” said Romanian captain, Marius Tincu.
Georgia 17-31 African Kings
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Defending champions Georgia scored first in their opening tie of the tournament, but were undone by the enterprising SA Kings side, who showed good fitness to finish a tight game with a flourish and win 31-17.
Even in rainy conditions, both sides showed a commendable appetite for running rugby and it was the Georgians who took advantage of some South African lapses to notch an early try by left wing, Irakli Chikhivadze.
But the Kings, with former Bath forward Luke Watson leading from the front, fought back with a vengeance and Siyanda Grey sprinted thorough for the first of their scores following a clever up-and-under.
As the match wore on the greasy ball started to play havoc until some 10 minutes before time when, miraculously, a move initiated on the left by the lively South African loose forwards, was switched to the right where smart handling saw Grey gallop over for another try, a feat he repeated a few moments later to clinch the first hat trick of the tournament and extend the South African lead to 14 points.
“I am delighted with the win and I have to commend the forwards, who were impressive with Luke Watson having an outstanding game,” said coach Alan Solomons. “We have not played for six week and then we had a fairly exhausting trip from South Africa, so the boys recovered well for a very good performance, in which tactical awareness and territory played a significant part.”
Captain and full back Mzwandile Stick added that this was a very good start for the Kings, confronted with a physical and competent Georgian side.
Georgia were beaten but unbowed. "Disappointed but not disheartened,” was the verdict of coach Richie Dixon, whose captain Ilia Zedginidze added: "We made a few elementary errors, mostly under the high ball, but we were very much in the game with 10 minutes to go. I am pleased with the attitude, endeavour and spirit of the boys."
Argentina Jaguars 21-25 Portugal
The first day of the sixth IRB Nations Cup ended in spectacular fashion with a thriller between Argentina Jaguars and Portugal. With the Lobos celebrating the Portuguese National Day they produced an inspired performance, full of pride and guts, to upset a strong Argentine second string 25-21, until tonight one of the hot favourites for the title.
In a fine match the lead changed hands several times, the gallant Portuguese building an initial 11-point lead with a try by centre Carl Murray and accurate kicking by outside half Pedro Cabral.
The Argentines fought back though and surged into a seven-point lead with tries by Joaquin Tuculent, Tomas Leonardi and Tomas de la Vega, captain and outside half Santiago Gonzales adding points with the boot.
But the never-say-die Portuguese, tackling like men possessed, returned to attack and snatched an improbable win with a well taken try by replacement forward Jacques Le Roux.
“I think we surprised them with our approach in the first 20 minutes, when we ran every ball and kept the pressure on instead of kicking and defending like we've done before,” said Portugal's captain, Joao Correia.
An exhausted but delighted head coach Errol Brain added: “I am very proud of the way the players got stuck into the game, showing composure and more maturity, which wins tight games like these and which in the olden days they might have lost. They worked very, very hard and it all came together tonight. I am genuinely pleased.”
The Jaguars, meanwhile, featuring several of the players that won the South American Championship a few weeks ago, had to acknowledge defeat at the hands of an inspired group of men who felt from the outset that this was their day and nobody was going to spoil the party.
“We did not play as well as we could, we made too many errors and because of the weather could not control the game. But we have learned a lot and that is what this tournament is all about,” said Jaguars coach, Daniel Hourcade.
Google describes the National Portuguese Day as “A day to remember your roots, get together and party". The Lobos did just that.