RUGBY LEAGUE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP C : GAME 1 – SPAIN 40 MALTA 30 – Report
A superb first half, characterised by a wonderful hat-trick from man of the match, full-back Dani Garcia saw Spain take the spoils in the opening game of European Championship C, as they beat Malta 40-30 at the Polideportivo Cuatre Carreres Stadium, Valencia.
The hosts led 30-6 at the break, Garcia unstoppable as he ran Malta ragged, the La Reole custodian also landing five goals in a blistering opening 40 minutes.
“It was a very physical game and I knew it was going to be difficult raising to this level,” said Spain coach Darren Fisher. “So to settle the nerves for such an important game, play with such excitement and passion, I couldn’t be prouder of them, I’m thrilled to bits with the boys.”
Spain got off to the perfect start, hooker Gonzalo Morro sniping over, Garcia then crossing twice in six minutes. Palau centre Alex O’Doutres extended the lead, Garcia taking it to 30 unanswered points; Sam Blyton-Keep getting the visitors on the board just before the half hour with a self-converted try, part of a personal 14-point haul.
Malta narrowed the gap two minutes into the second period when Shan Francois Hussain crossed but the visitors couldn’t sustain the pressure and, trying to force the ball and losing possession, saw it snapped up by Ivan Mendez who sent in Antonio Puerta; Garcia with his only goal miss from seven attempts in his tally of 24 points.
Andrew Muscat again got Malta on the front foot, carving out an opening that Joe Burke finished well but the islanders were penalised on their own 20 after a fracas and Andy Pilkington made them pay with a try.
Garcia should have had a fourth soon after, Hadriel Mehamed González with a fine break down the touchline side but his inside ball fumbled.
The visitors, who are at home to Greece on 10th October in game two, finished strongly, winger Jean-Pierre Zarb going over out wide and Jake Lynch crossing with the final play, Blyton-Keep goaling both.
“The Spanish were the better side, they took their chances extremely well,” said Malta player/coach Chris Parker. “We were disappointed in our performance and need to build on how we finished for the next game.”
The winners of European Championship C will take the final place in the 2016 European Qualifiers for the World Cup the following year.
Dani Garcia, Hadriel Mehamed González, Alex O’Doutres, Antonio Puerta, Diego Lagunas, Ivan Mendez, Miguel Blanco, Luis Thorp, Gonzalo Morro, Dani Moreno, Cedric Bringuier, Matt Dulley, Aitor Davila
Subs (all used) Ezequiel Perez-Fuster, Andy Pilkington, Isaac Pulgar, Adrian Alonso
Tries: Morro (4), Garcia (13, 19, 33), O’Doutres (24), Puerta (48), Pilkington (70)
Goals: Garcia 6/7
Andrew Muscat, Jean-Pierre Zarb, Sam Blyton-Keep, Christian Briffa, Zachariah Micallef, Robin Cutajar, Danny Burke, Jeremy Dela, Justin Barlogio, Pete Debono, Jake Lynch, Pete Ingham, Chris Parker
Subs (all used) Shan Francois Hussain, Joe Paolella, Joseph Pio Mizzi, Sam Firth
Tries: Blyton-Keep (29), Francois Hussain (42), Burke (64), Zarb (76), Lynch (79)
Goals: Blyton-Keep 5/5
Man of the match: Dani Garcia
Half time: 30-6
Referee: Danny McNeice (England)