Italy 'A' and Namibia close in on glory
June 15, 2010
Italy 'A' fly-half Lucas Orquera weighed in with 21 points in his side's victory over Georgia © PA Photos
Italy 'A' and Namibia will battle it out for the 2010 Nations Cup title on Sunday after seeing off the challenge of Georgia and Scotland 'A' respectively in their latest clashes at the Arcul de Triumpf Stadium in Bucharest.
The Italians saw off Georgia 21-3 and the Africans ended the Scots' hopes of defending their title with a 23-20 victory. In the third match on day two hosts Romania won their first victory of the campaign, 24-8 against the Jaguars.
Italy 'A' and Namibia now stand one win away from a first ever Nations Cup title - the Italians face Romania in the third and final round of matches, while the Namibians face fellow Rugby World Cup qualifiers Georgia. Should both win their final match, the overall winner will be decided on points difference with Italy (+20) currently holding the advantage over the Namibians (+7).
Fly-half Lucas Orquera was the star of the show - kicking all of his side's points to cement his side's place at the top of the table following their opening victory of the Argentina Jaguars. The result all but ended Los Lelos' title hopes and brought them crashing back to earth following their opening upset of Scotland 'A'. Only Romania now stand in the way of a first Italian win in the tournament when the two go head-to-head in the third and final round on Sunday.
The Argentine-born Orquera, who plays for French club Brive, landed seven penalties - four in the first half - to become the first player in the history of the IRB Nations Cup to break the 100-point barrier.
The Italians made only one change to their winning line-up from the first match day, 21-year-old tight head prop Dario Chistolini of Padua coming in for Benetton's Pedro di Santo. On the other hand, Georgia made eight changes to the side that beat Scotland 'A' - five to their pack - and never reached the same levels of concentration and resolution, despite the brave efforts of Tedo Zibzibadze and his teammates. Instead they had to acknowledge defeat at the hands, or rather the boot, of a better team.
When Namibia coach Johan Diergaardt proclaimed on his birthday last Friday that Namibia had the potential to win this tournament, some questioned whether or not he was joking after his country's first ever win in the IRB Nations Cup. Three days on and a second victory, this time over Scotland A, has reminded everybody that the Namibians mean business.
It was the exciting Namibian back division that did most of the damage - outside half Jacky Bock, the de la Harpe brothers Sergio and Darryl, Piet van Zyl and Llewellyn Winkler all ably orchestrated by the talented scrum half Eugen Jantjies - based on a solid forward effort led by Saracens wing forward and skipper Jacques Burger.
Scotland started strongly as Bryan Rennie went over for their first try some 15 minutes into the game. With David Blair and Chrysander Botha exchanging penalties, it was the outstanding Jantjies who struck back to cut the deficit to five points. Tries by hooker Shaun Esterhuizen and replacement forward Tinus du Plessis left the Scots trailing by 10 points but led by their never-say-die skipper Ally Hogg they bounced back with a vengeance.
Replacement Greig Laidlaw scored a try, which he converted himself to cut the deficit to three points with 10 minutes to go and the Scots spent the rest of the game massed in the Namibian 22 but for a variety of reasons, from sheer bad luck to poor options they failed to score enabling Namibia to add a second scalp to their growing collection.
Romania won their first victory of the tournament against the Jaguars, who slipped to their second defeat in as many games.
As the final match of the day started between the hosts and the pre-tournament favourites the notoriously fickle weather of Bucharest summer struck again, changing in an instant from boiling hot to torrential rain.
This had the effect of slowing down the play, and certainly giving the bigger and heavier Romanian pack a slight advantage in the attritional exchanges. Unfortunately, it also peppered the game with a string of unforced errors on both sides, which took the sting out of the Jaguars' back division.
By the time the down pour subsided into the second half, the Romanians were already 16 points ahead and fighting a containment battle to maintain the lead. Their plan worked too as the Jaguars kept taking the game forward, only to be let down by their own handling errors or come up against fierce Romanian tackling.
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker
It is 100 years this week since the last international match played in Europe before the outbreak of World War One. Rewind remembers the fixture's longest-living survivor