My team will deliver against Israel – Neill
Damien Neill is confident the national team can preserve its unbeaten record in the European Championship qualifiers when they face leaders Israel in a Conference 1 South match at the Hibs Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 2pm).
Late last year, the Maltese team had a strong start in the division when they brushed aside Andorra 63-15 in La Vella before easing past Cyprus 31-3 at the ground in Corradino.
Neill’s men are currently second in the group on 10 points, four adrift of the Israelis who also have a perfect record in the group but played a game more.
Neill said his players are determined to make it three wins in a row and seize top spot in the group ahead of next week’s crucial trip to third-placed Croatia.
“This is a delicate match for us,” Neill told a news conference yesterday.
“Israel are top of the group but have played a game more than us. We only have one scenario possible – go out and score a convincing victory with bonus points to leapfrog Israel in the table and stay on course for promotion.
“It will not be easy as Israel are a very solid outfit but we play our best rugby on home soil and I’m sure we will produce another strong performance.”
The coach said victory over Israel holds more significance for his team as a positive result will keep them on course to reach the second round of the 2019 World Cup qualifiers.
“Topping our group will not only secure promotion but it will also open new avenues for us,” Neill said.
“Victory in our final two matches against Israel and Croatia will put us in a play-off against the top side from Conference 1 North on May 27. Probably the other team in the play-off will be Czech Republic.”
The winner of the play-off will then progress to the next qualifying stage of the 2019 World Cup and a match against a side of a lower division with good chances of making more inroads and another match scheduled for next November.
“So, as you can see there is a lot at stake for us at the moment but given the great pool of talent in the squad I’m confident we can go a long way,” Neill reckoned.
Steve Busuttil, the MRFU president, made a passionate plea to all rugby fans to support the Maltese team from the stands on Saturday.
“Saturday will be a great feast of rugby and I urged all rugby enthusiasts to come to the Hibs Stadium and give their support to our players,” Busuttil said.
“Our national team boasts a very strong record on home ground and that is also thanks to the passion our fans manage to transmit to the players on the day.”
National Squad: A. Harvey, M. Spiteri, H. Collins, D. Holliday, G. Hili, D. Cerketa, N. Gatt, D. Deguara, I. Bezzina, C. Cassar, D. Apsee, B. Borg, L. Watts, A. Vella, M. Davey, T. Holloway, J. Galea, T. Quarendon, R. O’Brien, L. Matthews, D. Busuttil, A. Galea, R. Holloway, J. Kirk, J. Debattista, J. Morris, G. Hepburn, C. Dudman.
Israel (3-0-0) 14; Malta (2-0-0) 10; Croatia (1-0-1) 6; Andorra (1-0-3) 4; Cyprus (0-0-3) 1.