First win for Spain as duo remain unbeaten
By Jon Newcombe
Russia look destined to go down the Rugby World Cup 2015 play-off qualification route after crashing to a heavy defeat at the hands of Romania in Nebug.
With three rounds of European Nations Cup Division 1A fixtures remaining, Saturday’s 34-3 reverse on home soil has left Russia 10 points adrift of the Oaks and Georgia at the top of the table.
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While the top two ranked teams go through to RWC 2015 as Europe 1 and 2, the third-placed side must beat the winners of ENC Division 1B or the Netherlands, in a play-off match to gain entry into the Repechage.
A penalty apiece from Florin Vlaicu and Yury Kushnarev were the only scores of an uneventful first half until Romania number 8 Stelian Burcea broke the deadlock when he scythed through the Bears’ defensive line to score his third international try on the stroke of half-time. Vlaicu converted to make it 10-3 to the visitors at the break.
Now playing with the wind behind their backs, Romania’s dominance was rewarded early in the second half when Vlaicu kicked his second penalty. Flanker Viorel Lucaci then effectively put the result beyond any doubt when he scored Romania’s second try from a lineout catch-and-drive move in the 54th minute, Vlaicu again adding the conversion to make it 20-3.
Wing Ionut Dumitru added a third try on 69 minutes after he rounded Russia full back Vasily Artemyev and showed the cover defence a clean pair of heels. Vlaicu converted from wide out on the left.
Replacement back Dorin Manole then put the seal on an impressive performance from the Oaks with the bonus-point try right at the death. Fly half Valentin Calafeteanu turned the five points into seven with the conversion.
Georgia also maintained their unbeaten ENC record with a comfortable 34-9 win over Portugal in Lisbon, a belated birthday present for coach Milton Haig who had turned 50 the day before the match.
The Lelos had to wait until the 39th minute to score the first of their three tries, a quickly-taken tap penalty close to the Portugal line resulting in centre Tedore Zibzibadze crashing over.
Full back Merab Kvirikashvili, who had earlier kicked four penalties to one from Portugal centre Pedro Avila, was unable to add the extras and Georgia led 17-3 at half-time.
Two Avila penalties to one from Kvirikashvili saw Portugal close the gap to 11 points with half an hour of the contest to go, but Georgia responded with two converted tries in the final quarter to close the match out and stay top of the standings on point difference from Romania.
Kvirikashvili converted his own try on the hour mark to ease Georgia into a 27-9 lead before Tamaz Mchedlidze and Lasha Malaguradze combined with good effect to put in Davit Kacharava for a well-worked score.
First win for Spain
“We are certainly happy to come away for Lisbon with the win and although we took the four points, we all know that we could have played better," admitted Haig afterwards.
“At times when we played with speed and executed our skills well, we certainly looked like a team that could score tries at will, but we were too inconsistent and a drop ball or a final poor pass cost us a few opportunities.
"Portugal defended very well. They had good line speed and made their tackles and put a lot of pressure on us at the breakdown and in both these areas they forced us into mistakes. Apparently we have never beaten Portugal in Lisbon by such a score before so that's a positive to take from the game."
An 11-6 win over Belgium combined with Portugal’s loss to Georgia sees Spain move above their Iberian neighbours into fourth place in the Division 1A table and to within eight points of Russia in third.
After a scoreless first 36 minutes in Madrid, Belgium full back Alan Williams broke the deadlock with the first of two penalties. But Spain quickly hit back through number 8 Federico Negrillo Kovacevich, his maiden Test try handing the hosts a 5-3 interval lead.
Williams’ second strike shortly after the restart saw Belgium go back in front only for Spain fly half Dan Snee to respond with two penalties of his own on 48 and 59 minutes. Despite losing a man apiece to the sin-bin neither side were able to add any further scores in the final quarter.
The race to qualify for RWC 2015 continues on 22 February when Romania plays host to Spain, Georgia tackle Russia and Belgium meet Portugal.