The Malta Rugby national team underlined their intentions to top the European Conference 1 for a third succession season when they crushed Cyprus 37-10 in Paphos yesterday.
It was another impressive display from Damian Neill’s men who all but wrapped up the match by the end of the first half when they surged to a commanding 22-0 lead.
The Cypriots showed signs of improvement on the restart, especially with the inclusion of Giovanni Dall’Amico, when they managed to score two quick tries.
But that failed to unsettle the visitors who managed to fend off the hosts’ fightback to cruise home to their third successive win in the group.
Malta have moved top of the five-team division on nine points, level with Croatia who they face in their final fixture on April 13.
This crucial showdown will determine who will proceed to the promotional play-off against the top team in Conference North 1.
At the moment, Sweden and Ukraine are sharing top spot with nine points.
Chris Dudman was Malta’s top performer yesterday with three tries but all players in the squad deserve praise for a composed display throughout.
Malta were off to a brisk start as after Rory O’Brien put them in front from a penalty it was Luke Watts who charged his way over the goal-line to secure the first try of the match. James Kirk converted to give Neill’s men a 10-0 advantage.
The Cypriots tried to hit back but the Maltese were always on the alert to try and catch them on the break. This ploy worked wonders on 15 minutes when Dudman intercepted the ball deep into the Cyprus half to storm home for a second try with Kirk again hitting in the conversion – 17-0.
On the half hour, Malta lost Anthony Harvey to a knee injury and was replaced Gary Hili.
But that failed to derail the Maltese players who added a third try just before the break, again through Dudman and converted by Kirk, to head into the break 22 points to the good.
On the restart, Malta again started strongly and Tom Holloway cut through the Cypriot defence to bag his first try of the match and put the visitors 27-0 ahead.
Eight minutes into the second half, Malta made the most of their superior physical power to strike again when Dudman touched the ball underneath the posts with Kirk regaining his touch to extend the visitors’ lead to 34-0.
Here, it looked as though Malta took their foot off the pedal and that played into the hands of the Cypriots who scored two quick tries through Christopher Joannou and Dall’Amico to bridge the gap to 34-10.
But that was the best it got for Cyprus as Kirk kept his shooting touch with a late penalty to seal a comfortable win for Malta.
CYPRUS: G. Cosma, M. Zakakiotis, S. Panyiotou, G. Dall’Amico 5, B. Cosma, C. Joannou 5, R. Yiannakou, S. Yarrow, C. Paraskeva, C. Brown, G. Agathokleous, L. Frixou, M. Holden, A. Fell, S. Burns.
MALTA: R. Apsey, D. Holliday, A. Harvey, F. Deguara, B. Borg, D. Apsee, L. Watts 54, M. Davey, T. Holloway 5; R. Holloway, B. Dalton, M. Attard, R. O’Brien 3, C. Dudman 15, J. Kirk 9.
Referee: Hollie Davidson (Scotland).
Standings: Malta (3-0-0) 14; Croatia (3-0-0) 14; Israel (2-0-2); Cyprus (0-0-3) 0; Bosnia (0-0-3) 0.
Next fixtures: (April 6) Bosnia vs Cyprus; (April 13) Malta vs Croatia.
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