Keith Hopkins enjoyed a winning start as Malta coach as the national team battled past Cyprus in a dramatic Rugby Europe Conference encounter at the Tony Bezzina Stadium on Saturday.
It was a resilient performance from the home side that managed to tame the physical challenge posed by the Cypriots to delight the home crowd with a crucial victory.
Thomas Holloway, Rob Holloway, and Brandon Dalton grabbed Malta’s tries while Chris Dudman added further points from his boot to give the Maltese a commanding 22-12 lead. But the Cypriots fought back late on to move just five points adrift but it had to be some stout defending from the hosts to ensure the win.
In his pre-match comments, coach Keith Hopkins had warned his players of the huge physical challenge the Cypriots would offer to his side, and in fact, the visitors tried to impose themselves into the game with the strength and power of their pack.
However, it was Malta who drew first blood when they were awarded an early penalty that was cooly converted by Chris Dudman.
The Cypriots tried to force their way back into the match and enjoyed long spells of possession. However, they found in front of them a solid Malta rearguard who managed to keep them out each time they powered towards their half.
A notable thing was Malta’s defending in line-outs in their own half where they managed to steal possession from the Cypriots each time the latter were handed set-pieces a few metres from the Malta try line.
Instead, it was Malta who struck with the first try of the match. Mark Davey did all the damage with a surging run that took him just a few metres away from the try line.
The ball was shifted to Thomas Holloway who managed to avoid a couple of challenges to touch the ball home. Dudman missed the conversion to leave the hosts 8-0 ahead.
Dudman had another chance to further extend Malta’s lead minutes later but again he missed his shot from a penalty.
The home side continued to dominate and they managed to further extend their lead with another dazzling attacking play, finalised by Rob Holloway and converted by Dudman – 15-0.
The Cypriots started the second half in style and managed to half the deficit with an early converted try to sound their bid to get back on track.
But the Maltese stuck to their task and they managed to restore their 15-point advantage when Rob Holloway intelligently kicked the ball through the right channel and Brendan Dalton was on hand to accelerate past the goalline. Dudman kicked in the conversion to put the hosts 22-7 ahead.
The Cypriots refused to throw in the towel and grabbed their second try to move 22-12 behind and set up a thrilling finale.
Dudman had the chance to seal the win for the hosts but missed a penalty. That almost proved costly as the Cypriots added another try and the hosts had to defend gallantly in the final seconds to hold on to a precious win.
MALTA: K. Spiteri, T. Davey, T. Galdes, H. Perkins, M. Barbara, C. Sultana, D. Apsee, M. Davey, T. Holloway 5, R. Holloway 5, B. Dalton 5, K. Gauci, C. Dudman 7w, P. Ioffe, J. Zammit.
CYPRUS: G. Cosma, P. Stlylianou, F. Fayaz, B. Cosma, R. Constantinou, G. Agathokleous, M. Mladenovic, A. Georgiu, A. Pantechis, C. Georgiu, H. Fayaz, D. Georgiu, B. Yarrow, K. Phillips, M. Fielder.
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