Nations Cup off to a thrilling start
June 11, 2011
Romania's Dan Dumbrava looks to move the ball during his side's narrow victory over Namibia © IRB
Romania, Portugal and the South African Kings all notched victories as the battle for the 2011 Nations Cup got underway in Bucharest on Friday.
Hosts Romania edged out defending champions 13-11 in the opening game of the day and the Kings powered past Georgia 31-17 before Portugal accounted for the Argentina Jaguars 25-21.
Namibia fielded 11 of their 2010 winning squad but narrowly failed in their quest to subdue a fairly pedestrian Romania. The Romanians on the other hand, took advantage of the Namibians' shaky start and the sin-binning of tight-head Jane de Toit to score a valuable try through their burly No.8, Daniel Carpo. With the home side leading 13-3 at the break, Namibia needed to score first in the second half, and did so through fullback Chrysnder Botha. But the defensive bonus point was all they could muster as the stern Romanian defence held firm and a string of unforced errors and countless penalties doomed the efforts of both teams to add to their tally.
"At the end of the day a win is a win, though we did not play to our full potential and made too many unforced errors, both individual and as a team. But we are in the early stages of preparation, personally this was my first match since February and we need a few more days to gel together," said Romanian captain, Marius Tincu.
Georgia drew first blood in their clash with the Kings but were eventually undone by the enterprising South Africans, who showed good fitness to finish a tight game with a flourish. Even in rainy conditions, both sides showed a commendable appetite for running rugby and it was the Georgians who took advantage of some South African lapses to notch an early try by left wing, Irakli Chikhivadze.
But the Kings, with former Bath forward Luke Watson leading from the front, fought back with a vengeance and Siyanda Grey sprinted thorough for the first of their scores following a clever up-and-under. As the match wore on the greasy ball started to play havoc until some 10 minutes before time when, miraculously, a move initiated on the left by the lively South African loose forwards, was switched to the right where smart handling saw Grey gallop over for another try, a feat he repeated a few moments later to clinch the first hat trick of the tournament and extend the South African lead to 14 points.
"I am delighted with the win and I have to commend the forwards, who were impressive with Luke Watson having an outstanding game," said coach Alan Solomons. "We have not played for six week and then we had a fairly exhausting trip from South Africa, so the boys recovered well for a very good performance, in which tactical awareness and territory played a significant part."
Georgia were beaten but unbowed. "Disappointed but not disheartened," was the verdict of coach Richie Dixon, whose captain Ilia Zedginidze added: "We made a few elementary errors, mostly under the high ball, but we were very much in the game with 10 minutes to go. I am pleased with the attitude, endeavour and spirit of the boys."
The day ended in spectacular fashion with a thriller between the Jaguars and Portugal. Los Lobos produced an inspired performance, full of pride and guts, to upset a strong Argentine second string 25-21, one of the favourites for the title.
In a fine match the lead changed hands several times, the Portuguese building an initial 11-point lead with a try by centre Carl Murray and accurate kicking by outside half Pedro Cabral. The Argentines fought back though and surged into a seven-point lead with tries by Joaquin Tuculent, Tomas Leonardi and Tomas de la Vega, captain and outside half Santiago Gonzales adding points with the boot. But the never-say-die Portuguese returned to attack and snatched an improbable win with a well taken try by replacement forward Jacques Le Roux.
"I think we surprised them with our approach in the first 20 minutes, when we ran every ball and kept the pressure on instead of kicking and defending like we've done before," said Portugal's captain, Joao Correia.
The second round of matches are to be played on June 15 with Georgia taking on the Argentina Jaguars, Romania playing the SA Kings and Portugal facing Namibia.
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