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Neill keen to build on strong start

Malta players train under the guidance of coach Damian Neill ahead of today’s match against Cyprus. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Malta players train under the guidance of coach Damian Neill ahead of today’s match against Cyprus. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Malta coach Damian Neill has called on his players to build on their strong start to the European Conference One South when they host Cyprus at the Hibs Stadium this afternoon (kick-off 2pm).

The Maltese team come into the match in high spirits after last weekend’s impressive 63-15 victory over Andorra in La Vella and Neill wants to see more of the swift attacking rugby against their Mediterranean opponents today.

“Our performance against Andorra on Saturday was excellent in all areas,” Neill told Times of Malta.

“We were focused right from the outset and pounced on every mistake our opponents committed.

“In the end, we could have won by a bigger margin.

“Cyprus are up next and I can assure you that I’m not taking them lightly.

“They are stronger than Andorra... Cyprus are one of the emerging nations in the sport.

“In the last few years, they have caught the headlines after setting a new world record of 24 consecutive victories in Test matches which still stands today. We have to be very cautious.”

Neill is boosted by a clean bill of health after the team’s exertions against Andorra and it’s no surprise that he has confirmed the 23 players who made the trip to La Vella last weekend.

The strong showing in Andorra has moved Malta up five places in the latest IRB rankings to 44th in the world and strengthened the team’s status as one of the leading favourites to challenge for promotion along with Croatia in a pool also comprising Israel.

Neill has made no secret of his ambition to challenge for top spot in the group and is encouraging his players to maintain their attacking approach to claim a second bonus point and further increase their point difference.

“From what I’ve seen so far, my team has bags of potential and we can surely challenge to win our section,” Neill said.

“In Andorra, we played some excellent offensive rugby and against Cyprus we need to maintain this approach as I think a strong points difference could become crucial in the final outcome in this group.

“The group winner in our section will be involved in a play-off against the top side in the Northern Conference and the team with the highest points difference will host the tie, so that is one aspect we need to build on.

“I’m really looking forward to the match on Saturday (today) and I’m sure that, with the  backing of our vocal fans, we can maintain our perfect start in this new European qualifying campaign.”

Today’s matches: 2pm Malta vs Cyprus; Andorra vs Croatia.

The squad

Jeremy Debattista, Rory O’Brien, Julian Galea, Isaac Bezzina, Benjamin Borg, Nathan Gatt, Dragan Cerketa, Matthew Spiteri, Robert Holloway, James Kirk, Toby Quarendon, Dominic Busuttil, George Hepburn, James Morris, Thomas Holloway, Mark Davey, Daniel Apsee, Jack Basher, Luke Watts, Darren Deguara, Anthony Hardy, Daniel Holliday, Rhodri Apsee.

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