This weekend sees the resumption of the 2009-2010 European Nations Cup. As well as the glory of winning the cup, the winning team and second place team in this year’s ENC will qualify automatically for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
At the half-way mark, Russia currently lie second in the table, a point behind leaders Georgia, and a point ahead of third placed Portugal. All three sides have an excellent chance of making it to the finals; either through one of the two automatic qualifier spots, or through the absurdly complex playoff that the third placed team will be entered into.[table id=2 /]
Russia’s first and last matches will be key this year.
They kick off the season with a home match against Portugal, and given that they won 18-14 in Lisbon last year, they’ll be fairly confident that they can pull off the win they need. Last week’s comfortable win over Namibia, who have already booked their place in the World Cup will have helped to boost confidence, and to sharpen the players skills as well. Portugal, though, will be no push-over. They’ve been to the World Cup before, and will want to go again. And, when they travelled to Georgia last season they matched the title favourites all the way to a sensational 20-20 tie – they’ll be hoping to go a point better against Russia.
If (big if) the results this season follow the formbook exactly, Russia’s last match of the season against great rivals Georgia will be the title decider. Russia’s ‘home’ match last year was played in Ukraine because of tensions between the two countries following the 2008 war, and Georgia defeated Russia 29-21 in a bruising encounter. To ensure parity, and because tensions are still pretty high, this season’s fixture (nominally a home match for Georgia) will be played at a neutral venue in Turkey. Georgia normally draw fanatical crowds of 40,000 plus for their home matches, so Russia will be hoping that the more subdued environment in Turkey lead to a more subdued performance from the Georgian rugby team, too.
Other big matches to watch this season will be Portugal’s return encounter with Georgia on February 13th (in fact, these first two games will decide Portugal’s entire season), and Romania’s matches with all three sides – Romania are no-where near as good as they were in their ‘glory days’ during the 1980s, but they remain a tough team to beat, and still harbour hopes that, if the results go their way and they pull off a shock or two, they could sneak into third place by the end of the season.
Here’s this season’s full fixture list:[table id=1 /]
Over the next couple of months we’ll be keeping you up to date with the latest results as, fingers crossed, Russia fight their way through to their first ever appearance at the Rugby World Cup.
Update: Match Reports at Siberian Light
Russia 14 – 10 Portugal – Russia scrape home against Portugal while Georgia are runaway winners at Germany. The Romania – Spain game is called off due to bad weather.
Spain 20 – 38 Russia – A reasonably comfortable win for Russia. Georgia sneak home against Portugal, ensuring that both Russia and Georgia are almost certain to qualify for RWC 2011. Romania thump Germany.