Neill urging team to hit back
The rugby national team will be all out to put behind them the upset to Croatia last week with a strong showing in their second FIRA/AER Nations Cup qualifier against Lithuania at the Hibs Stadium today (kick-off: 2.30 p.m.).
On Saturday, Damien Neill’s men were left to lick their wounds from a heart-breaking 20-19 defeat in Makarska.
The Maltese team not only lost a match which they had dominated for long stretches but in the pro-cess they may also have some key personnel missing ahead of today’s clash against the Lithuanians, currently ranked 35th in the IRB world list.
James O’Brien was the major casualty from the match in Makarska as the Waterloo winger, so decisive for the national team with his precise kicking and efficient play, is struggling with a bruised knee.
He faces a race against time to prove his fitness for the match.
If O’Brien fails to recover in time it would be a tough blow for the national team considering he masterminded Lithuania’s down-fall in the last of the four meetings between the two countries when he scored all Malta’s points in a thrilling 14-10 comeback win at the Hibs Stadium in November last year.
Apart from O’Brien, Clayton Cassar and Daniel Holliday have also picked up injuries. They are also major doubts and could skip this match.
Despite the selection problems he has to deal with Neill still thinks he has seen enough in Croatia to feel confident his players will have the better of Lithuania today.
“Our match against Croatia was very good,” Neill told The Times.
“That was a cruel result and defeat was totally undeserved as we dominated the match for long stretches. However, we failed to profit from the opportunities we created and Croatia punished us.
“I think our players need to believe more in their abilities.
“The quality of rugby we played in Croatia showed that we can be a very tough team to beat in this group. So, I hope that we can show all that against Lithuania.”
The national team are on a roll lately at home, boasting three wins in a row at the ground in Corradino. O’Neill is again urging the local fans to back the team with their colourful support.
“The fans will be our 16th player against Lithuania,” Neill said.
“Their support has always been appreciated by the team.
“It gives the players an extra lift. That’s why we do so well at home.”
Malta’s next match in the group after today will be at home to Switzerland on April 6, 2013.
The Swiss get their campaign going in Nyon this afternoon against Croatia. The other team in the group are The Netherlands.
K. Mason, D. Holliday, A. Kennedy, S. Abela, N. Gatt, C. Cassar, L. Watts, D. Deguara, M. Bonavia, M. Davey, D. Apsee, T. Holloway, R. Holloway, J. Morris, M. Attard, R. Borg, D. Busuttil, T. Quarendon, M. Camilleri, J. O’Brien, V. Stivala, M. Galea, D. Cerketa, N. Wright.
Malta vs Lithuania 11-39
Malta vs Lithuania 22-18
Lithuania vs Malta 9-6
Malta vs Lithuania 14-10