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Germany and Spain are closing in on a place in the top 20 of the World Rugby Rankings after victories over higher-ranked opponents in the opening round of the Rugby Europe Championship 2017.
In an amazing game of rugby at the Sparda-Bank Stadium in Offenbach, Germany came from behind to beat Romania for the first time since 1938, while Spain saw off a Russian side who had started the day ranked three places higher.
Both results count towards the region's RWC 2019 qualification process, while Georgia, who have already qualified for Japan 2019 through their third-place pool finish at RWC 2015, made the perfect start to the defence of the title they have won since 2012 by taking maximum points from their trip to Belgium.
However, Germany were unquestionably the headline-act of Europe's second tier competition, formerly known as the European Nations Cup Division 1A.
Trailing 24-6 in the first half and then 38-20 with half an hour to go, Germany’s refusal to throw in the towel paid off when winger Marcel Coetzee squeezed over in the left corner to give his side the lead for the first time in the match.
Raynor Parkinson converted the try, as he had done with Germany’s four earlier scores, to finish off with a ‘full house’ worth 21 points, having also kicked a penalty and a drop goal and scored a try as the hosts completed a second-half comeback to win 41-38.
After a scrappy opening which saw Germany lead 6-3, Romania stepped up a gear and appeared to have killed the game off when they scored three tries between the 20th and 29th minute through Andre Ursache, Jack Umaga and Ionut Dumitru, with the immaculate Florin Vlaicu converting on each occasion. This despite losing fly-half Jody Rose to the sin-bin.
But a penalty try and a lung-bursting intercept effort from halfway from tireless flanker Jacob Otto meant there was only four points in it at the break, with the visitors leading 20-16.
The Oaks turned on the power again at the start of the second half and Ursache and Dumitru both grabbed their second tries to silence the 3,000-strong crowd. Vlaicu was again on target with both conversions to take his tally to 13 points following an earlier penalty.
But Germany’s strong mauling game got them on the front foot and Parkinson and replacement hooker Dasch Barber crossed before Coetzee claimed a piece of history with his first international try.
Germany climb three places up the rankings to an all-time high of 22nd, while Romania stay in 16th but on 67.63 points instead of 69.36.
Compared to sun-lit Offenbach, conditions in the other two Rugby Europe Championship matches were far less favourable.
Georgia made heavy work of beating newly-promoted Belgium in wintry conditions in Brussels, scoring two tries in each half against a home side roared on by a near sell-out crowd at the Stade Roi Baudouin.
Merab Kvirikashvili kicked a penalty and converted tries from flanker Giorgi Tkhilaishvili and centre Giorgi Koshadze on his 99th appearance, to give Georgia a 17-0 half-time lead.
Belgium battled gamely after the break and two penalties from Alan Williams brought them back to within 11 points of the defending champions.
Georgia were never in any serious danger of losing, however, and when their dominant pack was awarded a penalty try five minutes from time the Lelos had the three-try cushion they needed to take maximum points under the revised bonus-point system. Number eight Beka Gorgadze crashed over deep into stoppage time to make the final scoreline 31-6.
While Spain’ s victory over Russia was not on the same scale of Germany’s earlier in the day, to beat a side ranked three places higher than them was still a fine way for their Rugby Europe Championship campaign to start.
On another heavy pitch in Madrid, Brad Linklater kicked three penalties and converted Mathieu Belie’s seventh-minute try to hand Los Leones a 16-6 victory. Russia’s points came from the boot of fly-half Yury Kushnarev.
Spain climb up to 21st in the rankings – one place below Russia, who lost a fraction over one rating point and swapped places with Namibia.
Elsewhere, Andorra saw off Cyprus 15-14 in a battle between the bottom two sides in the Rugby Europe Conference 1 South. The match that did not affect the rankings as Cyprus are not yet a full member union of World Rugby.
The Rugby Europe Championship continues next weekend when Romania host Spain, Belgium play Russia and Germany travel to Georgia.
Photo credit: Sportkipik.be
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