The stakes are high as the Malta rugby national team will host Croatia in a decisive encounter from Rugby Europe Conference 1 South at the Hibernians Stadium, tomorrow (kick-off: 2pm).
Damian Neill’s boys are in high spirits following a convincing away win over Cyprus (37-10), their third straight success in the qualifying campaign that left them leading the way and on course to top their category for a third year in a row.
Nonetheless, they still have to see off Croatia to clinch a play-off berth as both teams come into this game on 14 points.
Should Malta overcome Croatia, Neill’s team will be facing one between Sweden and Ukraine in a Conference 1 play-off, with a place in the Europe Trophy division at stake.
It would be the third consecutive time that Malta would be involved in this one-legged affair. On both occasions, Malta fell to defeats at the hands of the Czech Republic and Lithuania.
Prior to this game, Malta defeated Israel and Cyprus away from home while easing past Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Corradino Stadium
Nonetheless, Malta coach Neill is wary of Croatia’s threat and is expecting a fierce challenge from their Conference rivals.
“I always expect a physical battle when it comes to Croatia,” Neill told a news conference.
“They always put up a good fight and they will be heading to this game brimming with confidence.
“However, that is what we want because the game has the potential to be a good spotlight for our movement.”
Neill heaped praise on his players for the work ethic they showed in the last few weeks.
“We are looking forward with so much enthusiasm to play against Croatia – we will be ready to put a good fight as we feel that it will be a good test to our credentials,” Neill explained.
“Recently, our Conference has improved with Croatia developing so much but I am still hopeful of our team’s chances to top the section once again.”
Malta have not lost a home game for over three years but given the improvement Croatia have shown recently, they could offer a serious threat to halt that record.
“Croatia have a solid kicking game, they have a huge work ethic in their team and they have been playing more expansive rugby heading into this game.” Neill underlined.
“The margin of error is really thin as I feel we both play in an expansive way, we have a lot of determination and we can both win battles in key areas of the field that can determine the outcome of our game.”
For this important tie, Neill can bank on all the players including Robert Holloway and Toby Quarendon who have joined the squad for this match.
In addition, Daniel Holliday was struggling with a hamstring injury but should declare himself fit for the Croatia game.
Hibs Stadium: 2pm Malta vs Croatia.
1. Malta (3-0-0) 14; 2. Croatia (3-0-0) 14; 3. Israel (2-0-2) 11; 4. Cyprus (1-0-3) 4; 5. Bosnia and Herzegovina (0-04) 1.
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