Hungary and the Czech Republic will meet in Prague on Saturday in the next stage of European qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2019 after they beat Bosnia and Herzegovina and Malta respectively in the Rugby Europe Conference play-offs.
It took a 77th-minute try for Hungary to overcome their visitors 19-17 in a tense encounter in Esztergom, while the Czechs enjoyed a rather more straightforward passage with a 48-14 victory over Malta.
Hungary got off to a dream start in the play-off between the Conference 2 North and South winners when winger Timar Sulogan crossed for a converted try with only five minutes played. However, the higher-ranked Bosnia and Herzegovina responded with two converted tries of their own, through backs Selmir Glavaš and Armin Vehabović, to lead 14-7 at the break.
Hungary levelled the scores when Italian referee Andrea Spadoni awarded them a penalty try six minutes into the second half, but the visitors edged in front once more when full-back Vehabovic added a penalty to his two conversions.
As the match entered the final quarter, Hungary survived the loss of fly-half Martin Sacase to the sin-bin without any points conceded and their superior stamina then allowed them to manufacture a winning score for veteran hooker and captain Zoltán Mathé.
It was Mathé’s third try in as many games and he was understandably delighted at the final whistle. “Everyone, from one to 23, trusted each other and believed that we could win this game. I am very happy,” he said.
As a bonus, Hungary move above Bosnia and Herzegovina to 70th place in the rankings following a five-place rise and a gain of 0.87 of a rating point, with their vanquished opponents dropping down to 71st.
CZECHS CASH IN
Meanwhile, the Czech Republic scored 24 points and conceded only seven in each half to end Malta’s interest in the Rugby World Cup picture for another four years.
Two tries from outside-centre Jiri Pantucek and one each for number eight Marek Loutocky and prop Emilio Caldaroni eased the Czechs into a 24-7 half-time lead.
Malta did come within 10 points of their hosts when they scored their second try at the start of the second period, but the Czechs responded with three more of their own to pull clear, replacement Zbyněk Schütz, flanker Vojtěch Havel and winger Tomáš Forst adding their names to the scoresheet for a final scoreline of 48-14.
From a rankings perspective, the victory was worth 0.32 of a point – enough to lift the Czech Republic above the Netherlands and into 31st place. It also earned the Czechs a place in the Rugby Europe Trophy for 2018.
BLACK DEVILS SURVIVE
Another international with a lot riding on the outcome took place in Brussels on Saturday as Belgium faced Portugal for the right to compete in the Rugby Europe Championship in 2018.
Belgium, who had finished bottom of this year’s Championship, stormed into a 14-0 lead after just eight minutes thanks to converted tries from second-row Gillian Benoy and classy winger Charles Reynaert.
But Os Lobos struck back with two tries of their own to take a one-point lead into half-time. Full-back Pedro Avila added the extras to a try from number eight Vasco Mendes and then scored himself before kicking a 35th-minute penalty to make the score 15-14.
Only five minutes of the second half had elapsed when Belgium regained the initiative thanks to a try from hooker Thomas Dienst, which Alan Williams turned into seven points with the conversion.
A penalty from Avila pulled Portugal back to within three points at 21-18, but the loss of Mendes to the sin-bin halted their momentum and they conceded eight points while reduced to 14 men.
Reynaert, one of the leading lights during the Black Devils’ Rugby Europe Championship campaign, crossed for his second before Williams added another three points from the kicking tee for a final scoreline of 29-18.
The victory earned Belgium a fraction over one rating point and moves them up to 26th place, at the expense of Hong Kong, while Portugal fall one place to 24th with Kenya the beneficiaries.
Meanwhile, centre Dušan Vučićević and full-back Marko Andrić both bagged a brace of tries apiece as Montenegro beat Bulgaria 42-19 in the only other game to take place in Europe this weekend, the final match of the Rugby Europe Development competition.
MALAYSIA MOVE INTO TOP 50
The biggest climbers in the latest World Rugby Rankings were newly-crowned Asia Rugby Championship Division I winners Malaysia.
A 22-9 win over Sri Lanka saw the tournament hosts defend the title and earn promotion to the Top 3 next year while form part of the Asian region's qualification process for RWC 2019.
That victory combined with the midweek win over the Philippines resulted in Malaysia picking up 1.76 rating points to move up eight places to 47th in the rankings.
More details on Malaysia’s success can be found here.
In the Sudamérica Rugby A Championship, Uruguay’s 41-27 win over Brazil had no impact on the rankings due to there being nearly nine rating points and 12 places between the nations at kick-off.
Chile and Paraguay remain unchanged in 29th and 38th place respectively after the former won 66-7 in Santiago. Los Condores do, however, increase their rating by 0.26 of a point to 54.82, with Paraguay losing the same amount in exchange.
For a comprehensive round up of the action fron the second round of the Sudamérica Rugby A Championship, click here.
Finally, history was achieved in the Caribbean on Saturday as the Turks and Caicos Islands beat the Bahamas 26-19 in the Rugby Americas North Championship in Nassau, securing their first-ever victory against a full member of World Rugby on the international 15s stage.
Photo credits: Martin Flousek (Czech Republic); Sportkipik.be (Belgium)