Russia confirm place in European play-off
By Jon Newcombe
Russia guaranteed their involvement in the Rugby World Cup 2015 play-offs after securing third place in the European Nations Cup Division 1A table with a 34-18 win over Portugal in the penultimate round of fixtures in Sochi.
A three-try blitz in six minutes at the start of the second half saw the Bears break stiff Portuguese resistance, and they can now look forward to a match on 24 May against the winners of ENC Division 1B – most likely Germany or Moldova – or the Netherlands.
Andrey Ostrokov of English Premiership side Sale Sharks got on the end of a powerful lineout catch and drive move to score Russia’s first try after just five minutes, Yury Kushnarev converting to turn five points into seven.
Portugal then hit back with a penalty from Pedro Avila before Russia turned the screw again with a second try, full back Vasily Artemyev showing good pace to round his man and touch down in the right corner after 11 minutes. Kushnarev again added the extras.
Portugal slowly grew into the contest and a second Avila penalty was followed by a try from giant second row Goncalo Uva, who barged through some soft tackles to score out wide on the left. Avila’s touchline conversion brought Portugal to within a point of the hosts before a Kushnarev penalty made the half-time score 17-13 to Russia.
Whatever head coach Kingsley Jones said at half-time clearly worked, as Russia came out firing after the break to quickly put the result beyond any doubt.
Belgium battle to avoid relegation
Tries at two minute intervals from hooker Valeriy Tsnobiladze and wings Vladimir Ostroushko and Igor Galinovskiy, with replacement kicker Sergey Sugrobov adding a conversion, saw Russia race into a 34-13 lead.
Credit to Portugal though, they did not give up and ended the match arguably the stronger of the two sides, their willingness to counter attack from deep being rewarded when wing Goncalo Foro muscled his way over to conclude the scoring after 66 minutes.
Their RWC 2015 dream now over, Portugal will look to secure fourth spot in the Division 1A table at the expense of Iberian rivals Spain, who they play in Lisbon on Saturday in the final round of fixtures.
Russia, meanwhile, end their campaign away to a Belgium side whose relegation to Division 1B was all but mathematically confirmed following a 29-10 loss on the road to Romania in Constanta. The Black Devils need to win with a bonus point in Brussels and hope either Portugal or Spain fail to pick up any points in Lisbon to entertain any hope of staying up.
Belgium showed great resolve and refused to throw the towel in despite trailing Romania by three scores going into the final quarter.
An early try from flanker Viorel Lucaci and a penalty try – both converted by centre Florin Vlaicu – saw Romania lead 14-0 at the break, the visitors finishing the half down to 13 men after Italian referee Blessano Claudio sent number 8 Hendrik Brouwers and prop Alain Miriallakis to the sin bin, the second card being shown moments after Romania had been restored to a full complement of players following Madalin Lemnaru’s 10 minutes on the sidelines.
Bonus point try the difference
Vlaicu and Belgium full back Alan Williams traded second-half penalties before veteran fly half Valentin Calafeteanu scored his second try in as many matches, Vlaicu converting to make it 24-3.
Romania then conceded their first try of 2014 when a penalty try was awarded against them with eight minutes to go, but number 8 Stelian Burcea ensured the Oaks had the final say when he crashed over late on to secure the bonus point.
“We didn’t play to the best of our ability by any stretch of the imagination, but it was enough to win the game against Belgium,” admitted head coach Lynn Howells.
“We made a few changes for this game, because we could afford to do so, but we’ll have to play 100 per cent better and be right at the top of our game if we’re going to beat Georgia on Saturday.”
Burcea’s try means that Romania go into the crunch clash in Tbilisi as leaders of Division 1A by a point after Georgia failed to secure the maximum five points from a hard-fought match against Spain in Madrid.
Two penalties and a drop goal from Merab Kvirikashvili saw Georgia open up a 9-0 lead after 30 minutes, but Spain hit back with two tries to finish the half on a high.
Turning point for Georgia
First, centre Cesar Sempere intercepted a loose pass to race home from halfway and he was followed over the visitors’ line on the stroke of half-time by full back Mathieu Peluchon, who expertly gathered in a pinpoint cross-field kick from fly half Charlie Melie.
The match turned in Georgia’s favour when Marco Pinto was sent to the sin-bin 10 minutes into the second half, the Lelos scoring 12 points in the replacement prop’s absence.
Talisman Mamuka Gorgodze drove over from close range to level matters at 14-14 and a break from fly half Lasha Khmaladze then provided the platform for Ensayo Mamukashvili to score a try which Kvirikashvili converted.
Kvirikashvili took his personal tally on the day to 14 points with a 69th minute penalty before a late kick from Peluchon earned Spain a well-deserved losing bonus point in a 24-17 defeat.
The failure to secure a bonus point means that Georgia must beat Romania in order to retain their European Nations Cup crown and secure a place in Pool C alongside New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and the Africa 1 qualifier at RWC 2015.
Anything less and Romania will take that place and Georgia will instead face France, Ireland, Italy and Canada in Pool D at England 2015.