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Malta beat Cyprus in coach Neill’s finale

Malta cruised past Cyprus at the Tony Bezzina Stadium yesterday. Photo: Jonathan Borg

The Malta rugby national team produced a strong first-half display to overcome Cyprus 41-24 in a FIRA-AER Conference South One clash at the Tony Bezzina Stadium on Saturday.

It was a remarkable performance from the rugby national team who provided a fitting finale to coach Damian Neill who was leading the team for the final time on home ground before he steps down from the post after the Games of the Small States of Europe that will be held in Malta next May.

Brendan Dalton was the star of the show for Malta after clinching a hat-trick of tries. The other tries for Malta came from Mark Davey, Luke Watts, Daniel Apsee, and George Perkins while Chris Dudman kicked in the other points from Malta to secure a remarkable victory.

In the first half, it was all Malta with tries on five, 12, and 15 minutes with a Dudman conversion, making it Malta 17-0 on 20 minutes. Brendan Dalton had scored first out wide after a patient build-up. Then Captain Mark Davey scored crashing over after several front foot phases and Luke Watts ran from a quick Harry Collins tap penalty to score under the posts.

Malta’s tactics of putting the ball behind the Cyprus backline and rolling it into touch kept the pressure on. Cyprus made their way into the Maltese 22 on a few occasions, but the effective double-tackling Maltese players drove them back time after time, with Busutil, Galdes, Rob Holloway, and Richard Gum tackling like demons.

Kai Philips was yellow carded for an infringement as Dalton darted for the line, only to be denied, but quickly from the restart Dalton scored his second try, making the halftime score 22-0.

Cypress kicked off the second half. Malta’s scrum was beginning to dominate pushing the bigger Cypriot forwards off the ball. Cyprus were trying to pin the corners with rolling kicks, but on several occasions, the ball flew into touch on the full.

A Lineout in the corner gave the men in white some hope, but the catch and drive was repelled and the ball turned over.

But Malta had to withstand 10 minutes defending their line. Another yellow card from a line-out infringement put their Prop George Costa in the bin.

Cerketta came on to replace Galdes adding some bulk to the Maltese scrum. From a quick tap penalty going right, Daniel Apsee scored crashing over. An Apsee breakdown on the touchline from the halfway, shrugging off tacklers, looked as if he would go all the way, but as he was tackled the ball went wide across the pitch to Dalton to dive over in the far corner, scoring his Hatrick.

Malta was now out to 34-0, with Dudman converting the Apsee try.

Out of desperation at being down so much, Cyprus started throwing the ball wide, bringing their quick wingers Fayaz and Philips into the game and they scored two quick tries to Paraskeva skipping around a ruck and then to Ben Yarrow from a chip kick and favourable bounce by Cameron Brown making it 34-12 with a conversion to Ben Yarrow.

Malta’s defence had narrowed leaving room out wide. Cyprus were gaining in confidence and again their offloads took them downfield for Pantelis Stylenianou to score out wide from a two-on-one.

An injury stopped play for five minutes, then on the restart Malta kicked into high gear quickly, breaking downfield with an outside break to Tom Holloway and an inside ball to new boy George Perkins. The latter shrugged off a couple of tackles and went over under the posts. Dudman’s conversion took the final score out to 41-24.

Referee: Liam Wright(Belgium) Match Commissioner Alan Wells(Belgium) ARs: Ribecka Hillelson & Sam Ramage(Malta).

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