Malta A team impress coach Damian Neill

Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 19:32

Malta A  61-  Sigonella Hoplites 21


With the Malta home international against Switzerland on April 6th fast approaching, this was a chance for home – based players to make an impression on coach Damian Neill.  The visitors, an all- American navy team based in Sicily, were out to avenge their home defeat to Malta two weeks ago, and they certainly came out of the blocks fast. They pinned Malta down in their own half for the first five minutes, and reaped the reward when Malcolm Attard dropped a pass and  Sigonella’s speedy centre Antony McCall kicked the ball forward, then dropped on it, rolled out of the tackle and burnt off the chasing players to score a blistering try.

Malta pegged back three points when Attard  slotted a penalty awarded against Sigonella for not retreating, and took the lead after 10 minutes, when John Ellul set up the first of a series of rucks, which ended with Nick Vella slipping the ball to Clayton Cassar on the burst, and he cut an angled  run through the flailing defence to touch down under the posts.

Malta continued to turn up the pressure, and Attard notched another penalty, before some deft handling along the back line put Rodrick Borg over in the left corner to score.

Sigonella launched a spirited fightback in the last 10 minutes of the first half, and after Ellul knocked on, Davon Shuler used the advantage well to cut back through a big hole in Malta’s defence and run in unopposed..  That brought the score back to 16-14, but Sigonella immediately suffered a setback when Shuler was yellow – carded for not releasing.  With a man down they did exceptionally well to score again, when the superfast McCall made the initial break before putting Austin Wilchek in the clear to run in for the points.  He converted his own score, and the navy boys looked to be heading for a first-half lead, until Malta launched a sustained attack on their  line.  McCall was lucky not to be sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on and, from the resulting penalty, Nick Vella switched the ball right, and Dragan Cerketa slipped the ball to Matt Camilleri, who fired over to score.  That brought the end of an entertaining first half,with the hard-tackling Americans just two points behind at 23-21.

With the wind behind them in the second half, Malta did what Sigonella failed to do in the first, and started to kick for the corners.  The tactic quickly paid dividends when a long ball found touch on the five-metre line. The Sigonella throw in was wayward, and the ball was blown over the try line.  The defender knocked it forward, and Calvin Briffa scooped it up for a gift of a try.  This opened the floodgates, as Malta’s pack started to dominate the set pieces.  Cassar picked up from the back of a scrum and broke down the blindside, before releasing Nick Vella to score in the left corner.

The next try followed quickly, with a classic back-line attack from short range saw Attard finish under the posts.  Sigonella tried to fight back, and nearly scored when a mix-up from the kick-off gave McCall the ball, but his jinking run was ended just short of the line.

Malta were soon back at the other end of the field, and fast hands through the backs led to a slightly fortunate try by Ryan Borg on the wing, when he looked to be in touch before the ball was grounded,  Soon afterwards, Cassar picked up from the back of the scrum, broke left and cleverly dummied his first pass, before holding the ball up for Camilleri to pick off and burst through for the try.  The final score fittingly came from man-of-the-match Cassar, who popped up on the left wing to snatch a blindside break ball from a ruck.  He dived for the line and his extended lunge grounded the ball on the line to leave the final score at 61-21 to the Maltese.

Man of the match – Clayton Cassar

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