Chris Thau reports from Bucharest
The South African Kings have taken to the top of the IRB Nations Cup standings by defeating hosts Romania 27-23 on the second of three match days. In the other games Georgia and Namibia recorded their first wins of the tournament, against the Argentina Jaguars and Portugal respectively.
On the third and final match day, Sunday 19 June, the South African Kings take on Portugal, Georgia play reigning champions Namibia and hosts Romania face the Argentina Jaguars.
Romania 23-27 SA Kings
The South African Kings took to the top of the IRB Nations Cup table by defeating hosts Romania 27-23 and maintaining their unbeaten start to the tournament.
In a fierce and dramatic encounter played with great intensity and passion in the dusk of a balmy Bucharest afternoon, the South Africans showed no inhibition in front of the RWC-bound Oaks. The Romanians seemed to dominate the early exchanges and indeed it was their loose head Mihaita Lazar who crashed over for the first try of the match.
However, the Kings’ lively outside half Louis Strydom kept his side in contention with a couple of penalties, before a string of Romanian errors led to them squandering a gilt-edged scoring chance for giant second rower Valentin Ursache and cough up the ball to the Kings, who found electric wing Siyanda Grey in space to outpace the Romanian defence and score his fourth try of the tournament.
In the second half the SA forwards shifted up a gear led by the indefatigable Luke Watson, who is making a remarkable recovery from injury, and when the talented Strydom went over on the left the Kings had a 21-14 lead.
Fanatically supported by the capacity crowd, the Romanians kept their cool and attacked with alacrity as both sides added points with the boot. The hosts’ reserve scrum half Valentin Calafateanu scored to bring the Romanians back to within a score but with the clock ticking down outstanding wing Madalin Lemnaru failed to ground the bouncing ball in the Kings’ in-goal area.
“Romania played remarkably well. They have a lot of very good players in their team and gave us a very hard match," said Luke Watson after the game.
"Our boys showed a lot of guts to win this tough encounter and it is particularly rewarding to win tight matches like these against the home nation. It is really exciting to play and win against such good side like Romania on their home turf."
"We started well and played well for most of the game, but small details doomed our better efforts," said Romania captain, Marius Tincu. "Too many turnovers, too many careless passes, too many opportunities missed - that made the difference. But I am greatly encouraged by the team performance.”
Portugal 23-29 Namibia
The elements can often be a great equaliser in rugby and tonight heavy rain enabled Namibia, who seemed more savvy and adept at changing tactics, to prevail against their gallant opponents Portugal in a hard and uncompromising battle, 29-23.
The light shower that greeted the end of the match between Romania and the South African Kings had turned into a tropical downpour by the time the day’s third and final match got underway and Portugal failed to adapt to the conditions for the majority.
“We struggled to adapt to the weather and then rushed too much, instead of taking our time,” admitted coach Errol Brian. “Their (Namibia’s) kicking game was excellent and we had no reply to it. This is tournament rugby, one day up, one day down.”
The fact that Portugal lost by less than a converted try illustrates how close the contest still was, as Namibia skipper Jacques Nieuwenhuis was only too happy to admit.
“We knew it was going to be a tough encounter and prepared accordingly. The rain threw us back a bit, because we did not expect it, but we had a chat and decided to change the plan. The ball was very slippery and we decided to keep it tight and let them run the ball. They kept running it and we defended it,” he said.
Johaan Diergaardt was pleased to be able to recall his number one fly half for the match, which paid dividends.
“It was not a perfect game, but we won playing to our strengths. The presence of Theuns Kotze at number 10 made the difference, I would say. He kept the board ticking over with his kicking, which really made the difference. We missed him badly against Romania, and he showed his quality tonight,” added the coach.
Georgia 14-13 Argentina Jaguars
CLICK FOR RIGHTS-FREE PHOTO: Georgia's Vasil Kakovin on the attack with Revaz Gigauri in close support in their win over the Argentina Jaguars on match day two at the 2011 IRB Nations Cup - Photo: Dan Marinescu
The second round of the 2011 IRB Nations Cup kicked off with a clash between two of the sides still looking for their opening win in the tournament and at the end of a dour contest Georgia prevailed narrowly 14-13 against the Jaguars.
Both coaches made wholesale changes, blind side Tomas de la Vega one of only three players retained by the Jaguars and named as captain, while his Georgian counterpart, Ilia Zedginidze, was one of the five Georgians to have started on Friday.
With 22 changes in all predictably the front rows were affected and the first scrummage, a messy affair near the Jaguars’ 22, was a sign of things to come. The Georgians won the ball but Argentine pressure slowed the release, which became a feature of the match.
The first try, scored by Georgia right wing Lekso Gugava, was an intercept off a sloppy pass and the only score in the first half. After the break, the Georgians controlled the game but contrived to let the Argentines back in, their number 8 Antonio Ahualli scoring a try. In the end, though, the Georgians managed to hold on to a slim one-point lead to record their first win of the tournament.
“We have achieved what we wanted, that is to see several young players at work, in significant areas for the Rugby World Cup squad, and I am delighted with their work rate. The fact that we won is really a bonus” said Georgia coach, Richie Dixon.
“We did not have enough ball and when we had it we lost it in tackles or made mistakes, too many mistakes. Plus the boys are a bit exhausted because of the heat, but in fairness Georgia is a strong side and played well to win,” said Jaguars coach, Daniel Hourcade.