Monday, 10 March 2014

Roundup: ENC 1A March 8

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A round up on the latest round of fixtures in the ENC. Romania and Georgia both won again to set up their Grand Slam deciding clash whilst Russia confirmed a third place finish.


image Romania (14) 29
Belgium Belgium (0) 10

Despite being already assured of World Cup qualification, Romania still needed to get through Belgium before heading into the ENC final against Georgia. The win was never really in doubt for them, but they made hard work of it.

Although Belgium lack skill they can spoil the opposition tactics and that's what they did to Romania, who had masses of possession and territory but struggled to break the Belgian resistance.

When the Oaks scored an early try it looked like this could be Belgium's first 40 point loss of the tournament, but it was 20 minutes later until the next try. Despite all the play in Belgium's half and their scrum being destroyed numerous times they held on until the referee finally gave a penalty try. Romania's scrum has scored a penalty try against Belgium for consecutive years now and that was their second in two games.

It was not a good performance by Romania who probably had next week firmly in mind and Lynn "Yoda" Howells was not happy with the performance calling it "unacceptable".

Going into half time just 14-0 ahead, scarce return for their dominance they started to further falter in a sloppy second half. They attempted some rather pointless penalties in a match already won which annoyed fans, young Vlad Nistor got sin binned and Belgium got points on the board, then Romania conceded their first try of the tournament from a penalty try from a maul. Belgium were actually drawing the second half 10-10 until Stelian Burcea scored late on to get Romania a bonus point win,

Belgium have proved tough opposition to really destroy. Their average losing margin of 13 points for a relegated side is by far the lowest in the tournament history, the 5 previous relegated ENC sides had average losing margins of 32, 33, 45, 50, 21 and 40 respectively. They are still not rated as crowd pullers though, both Georgia and Romania have put them into small stadia relative to their average crowd.

Romania: 15 D Manole (C Fercu 55); 14 M Lemnaru, 13 C Gal, 12 F Vlaicu, 11 I Dumitru (F Ionita 74); 10 V Calafeteanu, 9 F Surugiu (C Dinis 40); 1 M Lazar (C Pristavita 50), 2 E Capatana, 3 P Ion (H Pungea 67); 4 M Sirbe (C Munteanu 65), 5 V Poparlan; 6 V Lucaci, 7 V Nistor (A Mitu 66), 8 S Burcea (c).
Tries (4): Lucaci (4), Penalty Try (25), Calafeteanu (59), S Burcea (79) Conversions (3): Vlaicu (4, 14, 59) Penalty (1): Vlaicu (55)

Belgium: 15 A Williams; 14 E van Trappen (S Guns 55), 13 G Piron, 12 D Haghedooren (G Brébant 74), 11 S Vocea; 10 S Roos, 9 H Brouwers (W Hubert 40); 1 A Cuffolo (J Massimi 37, A Scozzari 78), 2 T Dienst, 3 A Miriallakis (A Kouemou 74); 4 P Hendrickx (B Goffin 55), 5 C Nana; 6 J Morelli (A Kouemou 37-47, B Frateur 74), 7 T de Molder (c), 8 M Verschelden.
Try (1): Penalty Try (74) Conversion (1): Williams (74) Penalty (1): Williams (57)

Referee: Claudio Blessano (Italy) | Venue: Stiadonul Mihai Naca, Constanta | Attendance: c. 1,000

image Russia (17) 34
 Portugal (13) 18

This was a very strange game and was decided really by one little 7 minute spurt after half time. Russia came into this game reeling off the back of two big defeats to Romania and Georgia, but despite constantly getting thrashed since the World Cup by sides ranked above them they are equally yet to lose to a side ranked below them either and needed just a win to secure their route to towards the playoff path towards World Cup qualification.

The Bears started well with Andrei Ostrikov peeling off a maul to open the scoring under the posts early on. The Lobos were slow to wake up in the game, after some passive defence early they earned back a penalty to gain 3 points but immediately failed to grasp a restart and lost possession and were put back under pressure which led to a second Russian try with Vasily Artemyev finishing in the corner.

However Portugal bounced back, getting a solid period of possession and gaining a penalty and try for Gonçalo Uva and went into half time 17-13 down and still very much in the game. But throughout this World Cup qualifying campaign, against the Iberians when they've needed it the Russians have found a little burst to win them these games.

Away to Spain the Bears scored 20 unanswered points in a 13 minute period in the first half. Last year, Portugal were 18-10 up at half time but Russia scored two converted tries to lead 24-18 by the time the clock reached 50 minutes. And that post half time period proved profitable for Russia again this this year against the Portuguese, scoring 3 tries in 7 minutes to secure the game and make them favourites to join the World Cup's pool of death.

First Valery Tsnobiladze went over peeling off from a maul for a try similar to the first, youngster Pedro Ávila missed a straightforward tackle on Artemyev which resulted in a try for the returning wing Vladimir Ostroushko, and then the vastly more experienced Vasco Uva in his 92nd cap threw a wild pass near his own 22 that gave away possession and resulted in a try in the corner for Igor Galinovskiy.

Two of Russia's tries came from some really silly turnovers conceded near their own 22, two of them came from the same maul and peel tactic which wasn't worked out and the other from a simple missed tackle in midfield. Portugal only have themselves to blame for this defeat, much like Spain only have themselves to blame for gifting a charge down and an intercept in their match against Russia.

Strangely, after the Russian burst the Bears hardly got out of their own half for the next 20 odd minutes. Portugal piled on the pressure in the Russian 22 for a good while, but Russia kept managing to hold them out and disrupt them through conceding penalties and forcing errors. After two yellow cards and a ton of Portuguese frustration, the Lobos eventually got their second try. But it summed up the difference in the sides, during the second half Russia got 3 tries in 7 minutes whilst Portugal spent over 20 minutes in the Russian half and got 1.

Russia: 15 V Artemyev; 14 V Ostroushko, 13 D Gerasimov (V Rudenko 68), 12 A Makovetskiy, 11 I Galinovskiy; 10 Y Kushnarev (S Sugrobov 32), 9 A Yanyushkin (c, A Shakirov 78); 1 A Volkov (G Tsnobiladze 47), 2 V Tsnobiladze (V Korshunov 44), 3 I Zykov (A Igretsov 47); 4 A Ostrikov, 5 K Kulemin (A Khudyakov 68); 6 P Butenko, 7 A Garbuzov (P Kvernadze 79), 8 A Temnov.
Tries (5): Ostrikov (4), Artemyev (12), V Tsnobiladze (42), Ostroushko (45), Galinovskiy (48) Conversions (3): Kushnarev (6, 13), Sugrobov (46) Penalty (1): Kushnarev (29)


Portugal: 15 N Penha e Costa; 14 G Foro, 13 P Ávila, 12 C Murray, 11 A Aguilar; 10 D Miranda, 9 E Rebelo (F Magalhães 69); 1 J Seguardo (B Medeiros 78), 2 J Correia (c, F Tavares 79), 3 C Spachuk (B Rocha 69); 4 E Santos (F Almeida 72), 5 G Uva; 6 K da Costa (V Fragoso Mendes 70), 7 J Bardy, 8 V Uva.
Tries (2): G Uva (24), Foro (65) Conversion (1): Ávila
(25) Penalties (2): Ávila (10, 22)

Referee: Matthew Carley (England) | Venue: Sochi Central Stadium | Attendance: c. 500


image Spain (14) 17 
 Georgia (9) 24

For his trip to Spain, Georgia coach Milton Haig decided on taking the risk of resting over half of what will probably be his starting team for next week's decider against Romania, including 6 of the pack. And whilst his team were good enough to get the win, it wasn't one that carried the momentum they might have hoped for.

Spain, the last ENC team to beat Georgia 2 years ago, looked like they had planned well defensively and made Georgia's backline look uncomfortable in attack with a fast line of defence that looked much improved with time together compared to earlier in the tournament against Russia and they held them to just a 9-0 deficit at half an hour, although they were fortunate there was no TMO as Gorgodze looked  to have scored a fair try disallowed.

The Spanish rush defence was rewarded before half time as César Sempere intercepted a pass from Lasha Khmaladze to score his 4th try in 6 games against the Georgians. His try was soon followed up by another as Irakli Machkhaneli and Merab Kvirikashvili both had a mix up under a high ball and watched Mathieu Peluchon give los Leones a stunning half time lead against the run of play and give the largest attendance of the weekend something to cheer.

The Georgians upped the ante early in the second half to score a brace of tries in quick succession for back rowers Mamuka Gorgodze and Giga Tkhilaishvili both of whom were impressive throughout. With the Spanish looking pretty unthreatening with ball in hand, that pretty much secured the match. Spain only had one real chance in the second half which was ruined by Pierre Belzunce attempting an overhead miracle pass and relieving the pressure on Georgia.

Georgia were pretty comfortable once they had a 7 point lead, but they didn't break clear and allowed Spain to gain a bonus point missing 3 penalties in the match, a couple which were pretty easy.

There was a sense from both the team selection and performance that Georgia were just turning up to win but do no more. They upped the intensity to score the tries when they were forced to in going behind, but didn't push for much more and that will please the Spanish as the bonus point gained has pretty much guaranteed their ENC survival even if Belgium can pull off an upset win next week.

Georgia like Romania were almost certainly playing with an eye on next week, but what will concern Haig is that the points they have dropped have been gifts, often coming from the usual suspects. They got away conceding soft tries against Spain, but it will cost them games against better opposition as they found against the USA last November.

Spain: 15 M Peluchon; 14 M Poggi, 13 C Sempere, 12 D Snee (J Nava 58), 11 P Belzunce (M Tudela 73); 10 C Malie, 9 G Rouet (P Feijoo 61); 1 F Labbe, 2 B Auzqui (A Ortiz 70), 3 J Moreno (M Pinto 51); 4 A Bonán (D Barrera 54), 5 J Recuerda (c); 6 M Cook, 7 G Gibouin, 8 F Negrillo (D Elgoyhen 49).
Tries (2): Sempere (33), Peluchon (38) Conversions (2): Peluchon (34, 39) Penalty (1): Peluchon (76)

Georgia: 15 M Kvirikashvili (B Tsiklauri 76); 14 I Machkhaneli (c), 13 T Zibzibadze (L Malaguradze 73), 12 M Sharikadze, 11 T Mchedlidze; 10 L Khmaladze, 9 V Khutsishvili (G Begadze 62); 1 Z Zhvania (K Asieshvili 70), 2 J Bregvadze (S Mamukashvili 50), 3 L Chilachava (A Peikrishvili 50); 4 G Nemsadze, 5 K Mikautadze; 6 G Tkhilaishvili (Sutiashvili 62), 7 M Gorgodze, 8 G Chkhaidze (G Berishvili 62).
Tries (2): Gorgodze (52), Tkhilaishvili (55) Conversion (1): Kvirikashvili (57) Penalties (3): Kvirikashvili 3/5 (9, 21, 67) Drop Goal (1): Kvirikashvili (28)


Referee: Neil Hennessy (Wales) | Venue: Estadio Nacional Complutense, Madrid
 | Attendance: c. 6000

Standings:

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