Malta overcome Lithuania with convincing display

Monday, November 5, 2012, 11:57

by Edric Bonello

The “Perfect Storm” may have hit America, but it was perfect weather in Malta, for this European Nations Cup and Rugby World Cup 2015 playoff game, between Malta and Lithuania.

The crowds poured into the ground with the VIP and grandstand areas full and the sponsors’ tables on the far side of the ground, hosting in grand fashion, with glasses of champagne.

Malta on the attack - Photo by Jonathan Chetcuti

Malta on the attack - Photo by Jonathan Chetcuti

And it was champagne Rugby that Malta produced in this encounter against Lithuania. Winning the match 34 points to 17. To play this sort of Rugby after the narrow defeat against Croatia 20-19 last week, playing away and also suffering quite a number of injuries in that game, for them to bounce back, shows there is great character and heart in this team.

We must mention that James O’Brien was still hobbling on crutches on Monday, Daniel Holliday was also injured, Clayton Cassar had to drop out due to bruised ribs, there were also a number of other niggling injuries, but our Physio Steve Cillia, was able to get them back on their feet. Quite a feat!

It must be remembered that Lithuania holds the World Record for the most wins in International Rugby, which stands at 18. So they have played some serious Rugby in their past and most of their players are professional, playing in the Russian league.

The Referee for this match was Mr Luc Janssens from Belgium and the Assistant Referees were Lionel Da Silva and Phil Gibbs from Malta. A number of the Lithuanian contingent could not make this game due to flight problems, so their assistant Referee wasn’t able to assist, it was also the reason for a number of changes in the jersey numbers just prior to the kickoff, which I noticed the media did not pick up on and so put down the wrong players who scored.

I was privy to the banter between the Referee and his assistants, he was asking them to keep an eye on things and communicate with him whenever it was felt necessary. Mr Janssens had Refereed us against Holland and we remembered a try that he disallowed, which he later saw replayed on TV and realised he had made a mistake, so we were aware of his credentials.
To the Captains, he wanted them to listen to his commands, no chatter and if he asked players to obey a command and they don’t, then they will suffer the consequences.
Lithuania won the toss and chose to play towards the VIP end, so Malta would be playing with a slight wind at their backs.

The teams descended down the steps onto the pitch holding hands with the future of Maltese Rugby all the kids, both boys and girls. All hell broke loose with drums a beating, bugles a bugling, flags a waving, foots a stomping, whistles a blowing, our sound has become quite sophisticated over the years, although still with a tribal feel to it!
The Prime Minister shook hands with the teams, a first and he actually stayed for the game, but then, this is political season and elections are due within the next 6 months, so he was playing to the crowd, but we thank him anyway!

The player’s names were read out, and for an Englishman, Mike Turner has managed to get the Maltese names down pat, but he struggled a bit with the Lithuanian names and with all the names ending in “S” except one, by the end of it, he was sounding like Gollum ssssssssssssssss!

Adam Kennedy(2) (he is our ex-Captain, Guy’s younger brother, it’s his first start) is in for the absent Harry Collins, Mike Bonavia(6) in for Clayton Cassar(with Luke Watts(4) moving into lock) and Malcolm Attard(14) is on the wing, these are the changes from last week. Howland, Cirketta and Wright have been brought onto the bench.

Malta kick off with O’Brien sending the ball skywards with plenty of air, giving his forwards time to bear down on the Lithuanian forwards, they hit it up a few times and their Fly-half Marsantas (10) loop kicks the ball over our backline for his winger, but it rolls into touch around the halfway line. We win the lineout with a crisp take by Watts, we go wide and Qurandon(13) spots a gap and puts his foot down, he offloads but the pass is dropped, but it’s Ok as we have a penalty for offside, so just two minutes into the game, up steps O’Brien to test his knee and his eye and he drills it confidently.

Malta 3 Lithuania 0.

From the kickoff we are penalised and their designated kicker Marcisauskas(14) kicks from around the 10 metre mark, but it drifts wide. The crowd are in a frenzy as he lines up to kick, but when O’Brien kicks you could hear a pin drop.
From the 22 drop out the ball goes long, Lithuania go left and there’s a two on one with Malcolm Attard(14) but he hits the ball carrier and he drops it, but Mal is down and needs attention to a knock on the head.

From the ensuing scrum, Lithuania get a free kick for an early hit up in the scrum, they tap and go but their 10 gets barrelled in a big tackle spilling the ball, we go wide quickly and their winger, Marcisauskas(14) tries to intercept the pass but it goes to ground, the Lithuanian defence is coming up quickly, trying to stop our wide ball.

The Lithuanians are trying to wheel every scrum, the Ref is being lenient with them, their flanker breaks early from the scrum and slaps down Tom Holloway’s(9) pass and gets penalised for his efforts.
It’s around 40 metres out, but up steps O’Brien and sweetly puts it between the uprights, it’s only 8 minutes into the game and the score is:

Malta 6 Lithuania 0.

They kick long from the restart, but Malta sends it back with interest downfield, Lithuania hit it up a few times, but their runners are looking for our tacklers coming at them and drop the ball several times as they go wide. Malta is defending well.

Malta is penalised trying to seal the ball off, by going to ground just outside the 22. This time Marcisauskas(14) makes no mistake and it’s:

Malta 6 Lithuania 3.

Around this time, I noticed that the giant crane from the Dockyards started moving up field, it seemed he was trying to follow the play, it looked like one of those machines from the movie “Transformers”, he was craning his neck trying to get a better look, he must have been reminded of his responsibilities, as he moved his “monster” back down to the other end of the docks.

Dockyard workers. The crane operator looked like this……. or similar!

Ok back to the game!
Malta finally get a penalty for the men in black trying to wheel the scrum, Lithuania are trying to disrupt our quick ball, but from 40 metres, O’Brien’s kick grazes the uprights.
We go wide from the kickoff, Quarandon(13) breaks and runs, he tries to offload to a runner coming through, but it’s forward. From the scrum Marsantas(10) puts up a high kick going left, Quarendon(13) leaps high and takes the ball confidently and runs it back at them, from the tackle Lithuania are penalised for offside, it is over 50 metres out and here comes that man O’Brien again and he belts it straight down the middle( was all that injury just a “Hollywood!”).

Malta 9 Lithuania 3, it’s 22 minutes into the game.

Marsantas(10) chips our backline trying to get our defence to break their pattern, but Tom Holloway(9) is back there and scoops the ball up and takes it into their ranks.

Holloway(9) carries the ball into the Lithuanian defensive wall.

On 25 minutes the ball bobbles around, bouncing off several players and Rob Holloway(10) picks it up and takes off for the line, with their defence out of synch, he weaves through and plants it 5 metres to the left of the posts. O’Brien’s conversion makes it:

Malta 16 Lithuania 3.

Realising the dangerous Maltese backs are starting to open up their defence, Lithuania are not committing too many players to the tackle area and are stacking their backline with forwards, but those same forwards are out there on their ball and their second rower Navickas(4) takes the wrong option in a 3 on 1 and cuts back inside and the opportunity is lost.
Apsee breaks on halfway, but can’t link with anyone, as no one is on his shoulder.
On 31 minutes, some phase play takes us into their 22 and Rob Holloway(10) having one of his best games, breaks and feeds Mark Davey(8) and he dives over to score. O’Brien kicks it, from out near the touchline and it’s:

Malta 23 Lithuania 3.

Tom Holloway(9) breaks around the fringes of a ruck and sets off, but he’s too fast and has left his support behind him and the break comes to nought, but we are beginning to shred their defensive wall.
At 34 minutes Malta is awarded a penalty for the tackler not rolling away and O’Brien slots it, taking the score to:

Malta 26 Lithuania 3

On 38 minutes there a crisis in the Maltese camp as Apsee is yellow carded for a tip tackle, nothing too malicious, picked the player up then dropped him from a horizontal position. The Ref wants to be seen to be doing his job and sends him to the bin for 10 minutes.

The resultant penalty kick from 30 metres drifts left from Marcisauskas(14).
Captain Dominic Busutil(12) takes a blow to the chin in a tackle and blood is streaming from the wound, he is blood substituted by Mathew Camilleri(20) while he is strapped up.

Down to 14 men and without their Captain, Malta are trying to contain Lithuania, who seem to have grown in confidence, taking the play up field to the 5 metre mark, from a ruck the scrum half Misevicius(9) throws a dummy pass, everyone bought it and over he went. Marcisauskas(14) drills it from 5 metres in from the touchline and so on 39 minutes the score is:

Malta 26 Lithuania 10

It’s half time the players and Referees and players head for the sheds and the little ‘uns and girls make it onto the field and show their skills.

In the Referees room, Luc Janssen and his assistants are talking about, that the off sides need to be policed more, that he finally penalised the Lithuanians for wheeling the scrum to sort out that problem. That he had penalised the Lithuanian flanker Urbonas (6) twice for breaking early from the scrum.
The Match Commissioner, Mr Christian Zidel from France came in and was talking in French to the Referee( I studied French at school and I understood that he wanted to know where he had bought his nice socks from!) but just to be sure, I asked Lionel for a translation and he said the Commissioner wanted the Ref to run better lines to catch the off sides.( but his socks were nice!).

The second half starts with Malta still down to 14 men, but Captain Busutil(12) is back on, with a head like a mummy, Camilleri(20) goes back to the bench.

Lithuania sense that now is the hour and the men must cometh, if they want to get back into the game and they pin Malta in their half for about 10 minutes, Malta can’t get hold of the ball and look out of sorts.
Lithuania are getting physical using their big men crashing the ball up and then trying to go around the fringes of the ruck, but the Maltese forwards are driving them back. Inch by inch, foot by foot Lithuania work their way up field, but a knock on takes the pressure off Malta.
Apsee is back on the field after his sin binning.
Malta is working the crash ball as well, with Luke Watts having a good game, carrying the ball over the gain line, giving his backs some go forward ball, Busutil(12) and Quarendon(13) are using their strength as well, as they hit it up. Lithuania are penalised when one of their backs gets offside trying to defend and from 40 metres O’Brien makes no mistake. So on 53 minutes it’s:

Malta 29 Lithuania 10.

A plane flies overhead, slows down and takes a look, then moves on. Probably heard all the drums and thought there was a revolution!

Celebrations after the game - Photo by Jonathan Chetcuti

Celebrations after the game - Photo by Jonathan Chetcuti

Lithuania break our defences and with the runner clear, it looks as though he will score, but as quick as lightening Rob Holloway(10) cleans him out with a beautiful tackle from behind.
Vince Stivala(11) makes a 50 metre break coming off his wing, stepping and going up the middle.
Malta break right with Davey carrying the ball, he offloads and the ball swings back the other way, out to winger Stivala(11), who swerves around his man and goes over, to the delight of the crowd, who were getting restless that we haven’t scored a try yet, in this half. As O’Brien goes to kick, the ball topples off the tee and the ball swerves away from the posts. On 59 minutes it’s:

Malta 34 Lithuania 10.

Lithuania are tiring and they bring on the substitutes, hoping the fresh legs will get them somewhere. On 63 minutes an over eager hooker Stankus(2) gets a yellow card for persistent offside, after the Referee has warned them already.

Malta make a couple of breaks going left, but a player turning inside, instead of feeding the outside runners and a dropped ball, cause the movements to break down.
We have a scrum inside their 22 and we pop their front row, but we are penalised, the scrum has been rock solid all day and the forwards have laid a good platform for the backs to operate from. The lineout has been clinical and the scrum won three tight heads( ball won from the other team’s put in).
Lithuania are playing on pride salvation and are desperate to finish well, they sweep up field and go wide with their winger Zibolis(11) going over. Marcisauskas(14) converts and a few plays later, that’s where it ends folks!

A great day for Rugby and it was crowd of around 3000 that witnessed a positive style of running Rugby. Applause must go to all the effort put in by the Organisers, the Coaches, Managers, Players and especially the crowd that Revs us up and takes us into the winning zone! Next game is against Switzerland in April at home.


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