Croatia edge Malta in Makarska
A strong second half performance was not enough for the Malta national team to avoid defeat in their opening FIRA/AER Nations Cup qualifier as they went down to Croatia 20-19 in Makarska yesterday.
The Maltese put up a strong fight but they were made to pay for some poor defensive play that was duly capitalised by the Croatians who went on to clinch victory in the Group 2A opener.
Damien Neill’s team were off to a flying start when James O’Brien converted two penalty kicks to put the Maltese 6-0 ahead by the 12-minute mark
However, Malta’s hopes suffered a blow on 23 minutes when O’Brien limped out with a knee injury and was replaced by James Morris.
Two minutes later, Croatia turned the match in their favour when they scored the first try of the match and kicked home the conversion to go 7-6 ahead.
The home side kept up the pressure and scored two quick penalties to go into the interval 13-6 ahead.
On the restart, the Maltese came out fighting and Vince Stivala scored his team’s first try of the match to bridge the gap to 13-11. However, the visitors’ joy was shortlived as Croatia soon scored another try and hit home the conversion to stretch their lead to 20-11.
That failed to derail the Maltese who continued to battle hard.
Tom Holloway scored a penalty before Mark Davey grabbed Malta’s second try of the day late on to put Neill’s men just one point behind.
Malta continued to push forward in the closing stages but to no avail as Croatia held on for the win.
Next fixtures: Saturday – Malta vs Lithuania; Switzerland vs Croatia.