The Malta rugby national team opened their international commitments for the 2015-16 season with a 34-27 defeat to Croatia in Split yesterday.
It was Malta’s third defeat in the FIRA-AER Division 2A and leaves Damian Neill’s men just one place off bottom spot on 10 points ahead of next Saturday’s tough match against the Czech Republic at Corradino.
For Croatia this was their second successive win after edging Israel 26-21 last week and have now strengthened their grip on third place on 17 points.
The Croatians were off to a strong start as they raced into a 10-0 lead after scoring a penalty and a converted try.
Malta, who were without their leading scorer James O’Brien, soon responded and managed to go on the scoreboard when Toby Quarendon scored from a penalty before Aaron Borg marked his debut with a try to put the team just two points behind, 10-8.
But the hosts soon stretched their advantage to 12 points following another penalty and a converted try – 20-8.
Quarendon scored from a penalty but it was the Croatians who added three more points from another set-piece to go at the interval 23-11 ahead.
Malta edged closer to their opponents with another Quarendon penalty but the Croatians grabbed their second try to take a commanding 28-14 lead.
A converted try by Luke Watts suddenly put Malta back into the match but Croatia killed off any hopes of a comeback by converting three penalty kicks to surge 31-24 ahead.
Malta had only a late Rob Holloway penalty to show as now they have a tough task to avoid fourth spot which would pit them in a relegation play-off with the Division 2B runner-up.
Standings: Switzerland (5-0-1) 23; Czech Republic (3-1-1) 18; Croatia (3-0-3) 17; Malta (2-0-3) 10; Israel (0-1-5) 4.
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