IRB Nations Cup
By Chris Thau, with additional reporting from Bogdan Predescu
The South African Kings defeated a gallant Portugal on the final day in Bucharest to finish unbeaten and win the 2011 IRB Nations Cup, their first tour outside of Africa.
In the other matches at the Arcul de Triumf Stadium, Georgia came from behind to beat 2010 champions Namibia 23-18 and finish in second place, while the Argentina Jaguars turned on the style to register their first win of the tournament against hosts Romania, 37-13, and claim bronze.
"On behalf of the International Rugby Board, I would like to congratulate the South African Kings on winning this year's Nations Cup, a result which was thoroughly deserved in a tough field of teams, three of whom will go on to compete at this year's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand," said IRB Tournament Director, Beth Coalter.
"I would also like to thank the Romanian Rugby Union for hosting such a fine tournament, not only in 2011 but also for the past five years."
Mission accomplished for the South African Kings on their first mission abroad as they defeated a gallant Portugal side 39-12 to win the IRB Nations Cup trophy, undefeated, at the Arcul de Triumf Stadium in Bucharest.
Deprived of the services of their outstanding number 8 Luke Watson, who was taken ill on the eve of the match, the Kings lost a key ball-winner and a degree of composure but still started well and scored a couple of tries in the first half through two members of the front row fraternity, Jaco Engles and Clint Newland.
The Portuguese answered in kind with two equally unusual scores from their two lock forwards Eduardo Acosta and Juan Severino, but the third South African try, by blind side flanker Jacques Potgieter, put them in control and also held the distinction of taking the IRB Nations Cup past the 2000-point mark since the first tournament in Lisbon in 2006.
In the second half Siyanda Grey’s two tries took his tally to six for the tournament, the highest this year and in IRB Nations Cup history.
After the break the dominant South African pack took further control of proceedings as the Portuguese tired. Errol Brain's men never gave up - particularly back row forwards Laurent Balangue, Vasco Uva and Jacques Le Roux - but they conceded too many turnovers in the final quarter to take advantage of their industry and the South Africans held sway to clinch victory.
“This was a good win, the third of the tournament and I am happy for the boys. We had lost our way in the first half but there were a few words from the coach at half time and we regained structure after the break. It was very hot and this was a very intense, physical torunament. I am delighted," said Kings captain, Mzwandile Stick.
“We lost our composure in the second half," admitted Portugal coach Brain. "We started to ignore the game plan, which we adhered to in the first half, started to run laterally instead of running straight and so on.
"The heat took its toll and we made two silly mistakes but in fairness we must say that we played against a better side and they deserved to win. I am delighted with the progress of this young team. This is the kind of rugby Portuguese rugby needs to make progress and I am very happy for the boys,” he added.
Georgia 23-18 Namibia
Despite tailing 15-10 at the break, Georgia fought back to win an intriguing contest between two sides bound for the Rugby World Cup later this year, 23-18.
In a match of fluctuating fortunes, drama and excitement, Georgia overpowered a dynamic and ambitious Namibia in what was the 50th match in the six-year history of the IRB Nations Cup.
The Namibians dominated early on but the stern Georgian defence, a number of unforced errors, an opportunist score by scrum half Bidzina Samcharadze and steady licking by Malkhaz Urjukashvili combined to prevent the Africans from establishing more than a five-point lead at half time.
After the break they expanded their attack out wide leading to a score for centre Revaz Gigauri and, although the Namibians attacked through outstanding flank forward and skipper Jacques Nieuwenhuis, the Eastern Europeans tightened their defence and absorbed a huge amount of pressure. Namibia might well have edged back ahead in the final minutes were it not for some wayward kicking. In the end the Georgians held on for the win.
“We beat ourselves tonight - we missed 14 kickable points, four penalties and one conversion but this is how you learn the hard lessons,” said Namibia Manager, Gregory Olivier. “We will regroup and bounce back. We start a camp at Stellenbosch on 1 July, when our preparations for the World Cup will commence in full.”
Naturally, the Georgians were delighted and head coach Richie Dixon was quick to congratulate his team: “At half time I just told them to concentrate, stop making silly errors and show the true Georgian spirit. And that is what they did.”
Romania 13-37 Argentina Jaguars
Both Romania and the Jaguars had their own special reasons to finish the torunament with a flourish – the hosts feeling that their brave but inadequate challenge against the Kings had deprived them of a shot at the title and the Argentines hoping to prove that they were better than their two narrow opening defeats suggested.
In a first half peppered with unforced errors and dubious option-taking neither side seemed capable of proving its point, although the streetwise Jaguars did capitalise on an early Romanian lapse to score a valuable try. The Romanians, meanwhile, failed to take several early chances, which would cost them dearly in the latter stages.
In the second half the Jaguars started to pinch ball at the breakdown with increased frequency and that poaching was followed by lighting counter-attacks, some of which ended behind the Romanian posts.
It must have been disheartening for the hosts to see attack after attack thwarted by careless handling. As the Romanians tired, the Jaguars seemed to strengthen and added a fourth try through their strike man at full back Joaquin Tuculent, which also clinched a bonus point and the bronze medal position.
“We are a young team and used the first two matches to get used to each other and gain more experience. We hope we have been able to show some of our qualities in the last match and we are genuinely happy that we managed to finish in third position,” said Jaguars captain, Santiago Gonzales.
Romania coach Romeo Gontineac said: “I am disappointed that the players failed to respect the game plan. I am not sure what happened. We had plenty of opportunities to score, but failed. This has become our curse and we must do something to sort this out,”
“It is easy to find excuses. At the end of the day it is my fault that we failed to follow the strategy, not the team. But this will help us as a group to mature and be ready for the World Cup,” added captain, Cristian Petre.