Damien Neill’s rugby national team will play their final match from the 2014-16 European Nations Cup qualifiers this afternoon when they host bottom-placed Israel at the Hibs Stadium (start: 2pm).
The home team will be looking to bounce back from last weekend’s abject showing in Fribourg, when they suffered a heavy 29-3 defeat to Switzerland, and chalk up their third win in the tournament.
With the Nations Cup set to adopt a new format as from the start of next season, today’s match holds little significance in terms of final classification.
However, Neill is urging his players to show they are a much better side than the one that played against Switzerland in their last international match.
“The players know that against Switzerland they failed to perform and stick to the gameplan,” Neill told Times of Malta.
“These were a tough few days for us but the squad has regained its motivation and want to make up for the poor showing in Switzerland. One positive aspect from that match was the fact that despite our below-par display the team still created various chances to collect points but we couldn’t convert those opportunities due to bad decisions.
“I’m sure that at the Hibs Stadium you will see a completely different team, a side that is determined to perform to the levels intended.”
Today, the national team will have to do without chief scorer James O’Brien. He is out with shoulder trouble as Rhodri Apsee failed to recover from a neck injury.
Also, centre Toby Quarendon is unavailable for the national team today.
On a more positive note, Neill is expected to give a second cap to Rory O’Brien, the brother of James O’Brien who made his Malta debut in Fribourg last week.
The Malta coach has also included locally-based trio George Hepburn (Stompers), Ryan McLister (Stompers) and Anthony Harvey, of Overseas, as he continues to increase the pool of players at his disposal in the national squad.
Israel may be bottom of the pool but Neill still expects them to provide a formidable challenge as they look to square the series with Malta following a 16-13 defeat in the corresponding first-round match last year.
“Israel may be bottom but they will be difficult to beat,” the Welshman said.
“I’m sure that after seeing us perform so badly against Switzerland last Saturday, they will relish the opportunity to come hereand bag their first win in the competition.
“But we have no plans to end our campaign on a negative note and if we play to our strength we can give the home fans something to shout about.”
Malta squad: D. Holliday, H. Collins, A. Harvey, D. Deguara, C. Cassar, J. Basher, L. Watts, M. Davey, T. Holloway, J. Morris, L. Matthews, D. Busuttil, R. O’Brien J. Kirk, R. Holloway, T. Galdes, M. Spiteri, J. Ellul, B. Borg, C. Briffa, J. Galea, R. McLister, G. Hepburn.
Standings: Czech Rep. (6-1-1) 26; Switzerland (6-0-1) 24; Croatia (3-0-4) 17; Malta (2-0-5) 11; Israel (0-1-6) 2.
Playing today: 2pm Malta vs Israel; 3pm Croatia vs Switzerland.
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