Malta 13
Czech Republic 20

Malta came close to upsetting group favourites Czech Republic but a late try from substitute Martin Havlicek gave the Eastern Europeans a 20-13 win yesterday.

It was a disappointing ending for the Maltese who were seconds away from a precious point with the scores tied at 13-all.

However, in the end, the Czechs’ superior physical condition made all the difference as they scored at the death for a hard-earned victory that puts them one point behind leaders Switzerland.

The Czechs made the early running but gradually the Maltese gained in confidence and started to pose a threat with the powerful running of James Kirk and Rob Holloway.

Malta had a perfect opportunity to nose ahead on 20 minutes when they were awarded a central free-kick but Toby Quarendon, handed kicking duties in the absence of the injured James O’Brien, fired wide.

The Maltese duly paid for this miss as a minute later Ales Stejskal used all his speed and power to score the first try of the match and put the Czechs 5-0 ahead.

More woes followed for the hosts as 12 minutes from the break they lost Mark Davey who was yellow-carded. The Czechs duly capitalised as, from the resultant line-out, they charged forward with a driving maul that enabled Marek Loutocky to power through.

Petr Cizek again failed the conversion to leave the Czechs 10-0 ahead.

Numerical parity was restored when Jiri Pantucek was yellow-carded for a high tackle and Luke Watts revived Malta’s hopes when he scored a fine try on the stroke of half-time. Quarendon bridged the gap to 10-7.

Malta received another boost soon after the restart when the Czechs had a second player, Robert Voves, yellow carded.

But the match remained balanced. It was the visitors who added three points through a Cizek penalty. Malta’s reply was instant and Quarendon was successful from a penalty to keep his team within striking distance.

The Czechs suddenly started to show signs of fatigue as their play was riddled by poor passing.

Inevitably, the initiative shifted back to Malta and on 65 minutes Quarendon levelled matters from a penalty – 13-13.

The Czechs regrouped and pushed forward in search of victory. Malta defended heroically but then Havlicek ran into space to score a try. Cizek was successful from the conversion to round up a 20-13 victory for the Czechs.

Malta: D. Holliday, T. Galdes, H. Collins, C. Cassar, D. Deguara, L. Watts 5, D. Apsee, M. Davey, T. Holloway, R. Holloway, V. Stivala, D. Busuttil, T. Quarendon 8, M. Cordle, J. Kirk.

Czech Republic: L. Machacek, V. Hruska, J. Kubalek, M. Wognitsch, R. Voves, R. Backa, V. Havel, M. Loutocky 5, Z. Schutz, V. Jursik, M. Kovar, A. Stejskal 5, J. Pantucek, J. Cizek 3, P. Cizek 2.

Subs used: V. Mara, M. Havlicek 5, D. Stanek A. Soural.

Referee: Stephan Boyer (France).

Switzerland (5-0-1) 23; Czech Re-public (4-1-1) 22; Croatia (3-0-3) 17; Malta (2-0-3) 10; Israel (0-1-5) 4.