Malta 18 – Croatia 18 

In the big top-of-the-table clash, Malta kicked off into a slight breeze against the physically intimidating Croatian team After an initial onslaught from Croatia which was weathered by Malta and a missed penalty pulled badly by Newton, Malta got on the board with a beautifully worked try when the ball was shipped right off the base of the scrum. The pass was slipped along the line and Rob Holloway fired down the right wing to to score.  The conversion attempt by Kirk hit the post, but Malta were ahead 5 – 0, against the run of play.

Croatia hit back almost immediately when they won a penalty for not releasing. They kicked for touch and from the resulting line-out on the 5-metre line, Brajkovic barged through to score. Newton made the conversion to take the score to 7-5 in Croatia’s favour. Malta were on the back foot after that, but their scrum held firm under pressure against their weightier opponents. Croatia’s tactics were to blitz the short side and it seemed to be paying off. A decent chance of a score went begging on the left wing, when they were penalized 5 metres out for not releasing and Malta got out of jail. A box kick into touch led to Malta clearing their lines. Croatia were immediately back on the attack. A sustained onslaught on the Maltese line led to a second penalty for Croatia after they had elected to run the first infringement on the 5-metre line. Newton slotted in the kick for the three points.   From the restart, Malta got a decent break as Rob Holloway kicked ahead and chased down his own. ball. The resulting scrum to Malta led to a penalty for driving in and Kirk slotted the kick home.

Another period of sustained pressure from Croatia caused the home supporters concern, but Malta stole the ball in the scrum and cleared their lines again. Croatia were awarded penalty and went for the corner, but the ball was ushered into touch. Back for the kick 25 metres out. Missed kick by Croatia so 22 metre drop out. The searching kick was fielded by Malta and the ball was kicked into touch for the final play of the second half. The half time score was 10-8 in a half that was dominated by Croatia, but with Malta taking what scraps were offered to them.

The second half started with the Croats wasting a two man overlap and a drive for the line as they knocked on when a try looked certain. Holloway put in a massive tackle on the next Croatian attack and the. Kick and chase from halfway was bundled into touch. The referee decided there had been a late tackle, however, and the Croatian penalty was kicked into touch. The Maltese line was threatened by a driving maul, but they held up 10 metres out. From the next scrum, the game changed as Quarendon intercepted a lazy Croatian pass and sprinted in to score.

The try was converted to bring the scores level. In the next attack, Gum put in a superb tackle after he chased down the Croatian player who caught the clearance kick and Malta are turned the ball over on their next attack. Croatia kicked ahead and Kirk was penalized for holding on. Croatia went for the corned but only made the 22-metre line with their kick. From the line-out, Croatia crabbed their way towards the line and Malta gave away a penalty under severe pressure. It was converted by Newton and Croatia regained the lead.

From the restart, a penalty was awarded to Malta after Croatia tried to drive their way out of their own half. Kirk kicked for the corner and from the line-out 8 metres out, Malta won a penalty on the 22-metre line for offside. At this stage, Malta had regained the initiative and were playing themselves back into the game. A great chance for Malta went begging as they lost possession after a knock on. The Croats kicked away but did not find touch.  An up and under by Quarendon was caught, but Malta were penalised. They won the the line-out and worked the ball left. Gum cut inside and Malta crossed the line, but it was adjudged to be a forward pass. Croatia were now on the back foot.  Malta won a penalty for offside 5 metres out. They attacked left and right looking for a gap in the Croatian defensive line. A breakdown saw the ball go backwards, but Malta recovered it and Tom Holiday set up another attack. The Croats were penalised for not releasing. From the penalty under the posts, Kirk banged in the kick and Malta were level. The restart saw Malta back on the attack, but the ball was cleared into touch. Croatia attacked off the line-out, but the ball was stolen. In the last attack of the game, Malta won the line-out and launched a final attack, but the ball was dropped and the referee brought the game to an end. It was a pulsating second half in which Malta threw everything at the Croatians but were desperately unlucky not to clinch the win.

Man of the match – Rob Holloway

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Author: Phil Gibbs