Week four of the 2011-2012 European Nations Cup saw wins for Russia, Georgia and, unexpectedly, Spain.
Georgia 18-11 Romania
The biggest clash of the weekend looked like it would be an easy romp for Georgia, after they roared into a 15-0 lead after just 12 minutes on the back of tries from Vakhtang Maisuradze and full back Besik Khamashuridze.
But then Georgia pretty much fell asleep for the rest of the game, and by all accounts were outplayed by their Romanian guests, particularly their forwards who were surprisingly effective. Although Romania outscored Georgia 11-3 through the rest of the game, they didn’t quite have the cutting edge or attacking flair to overcome their hosts.
Here are some video highlights of the Georgia Romania match.
Ukraine 5-41 Russia
As expected, Russia secured a comfortable victory over neighbours Ukraine, who have so far been the division’s whipping boys, struggling after their promotion from last year’s ENC Division 2.
Knowing that victory was almost certain, Russia were confident enough to field an experimental team. Tries from Grachev, Shakirov, Fatakhov, Ostroushko and Galinovsky saw them home in a rather one sided affair.
Read more about the match at the FIRA-AER forum – Ukraine 5-41 Russia.
Spain 25-10 Portugal
The surprise of the weekend was Spain’s victory over neighbours Portugal. Until now, Portugal had looked impressive, losing by a single point to Georgia the previous weekend. But they were simply outplayed in Spain, particularly in the second half where Spain turned a 13-10 lead into a comfortable 25-10 victory. Here’s the FIRA-AER forum discussion of the Spain-Portugal match.
Are Georgia European Nations Cup Champions for 2011?
The European Nations Cup is a really odd tournament. It’s played over two seasons, rather than one, to ensure that the teams have the opportunity to play each other both home and away. The upshot of this is that no-one’s ever sure whether they’ve won the title or not.
If, like ROAR, we count just the results from this season, though, then Georgia have won the 2011 European Nations Cup title with a game in hand. As you can see from the table above, they’re eight points clear of second placed teams Russia and Spain, and with only a game to play, neither can hope to overtake the Georgians.
Me, though, I’m a two-season man, so everything’s still up for grabs in my eyes. Georgia might be well ahead, but there’s still a mathematical chance that they could be overhauled across the two seasons (even if there isn’t actually a real chance!).
Regardless of the title position, Georgia’s win means that they rise one more place up the world rankings, up to 14th. They displace Canada, who they beat last autumn, and move within striking distance of Japan.
Romania (18th), Russia (19th), Portugal (20th), Spain (23rd) and Ukraine (30th) all remain in the same ranking spot.
Preview of European Nations Cup Rugby, Week 5
This weekend sees the final weekend of this half of the European Nations Cup season.
The big match is, of course, going to be the Russia-Georgia clash. Russia have underperformed this season, losing to Portugal at home, and then being thrashed by Romania, so they’ll have a point to prove in their last competitive match before the World Cup. Georgia also have a lot to prove – they’ve won all four matches, but in their last two matches have displayed some vulnerabilities.
Both matches between these two countries were played on neutral territory last season, because of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, but this season marks the return of proper home and away fixtures between the two sides. The problem for Russia, however, is that they’ve got to play in Sochi, rather than in their rugby heartlands further north. The last game Russia played in Sochi attracted a miserable 85 spectators. Hopefully some more people will turn up for this bigger match, because if not, Russia are going to be outnumbered by Georgian supporters on their own turf.
A win for Russia is definitely a realistic outcome, but much less likely in the dead atmosphere of Sochi. On balance, I think Georgia are the favourites to win this one.
The weekend’s other fixtures see Romania host Spain, in what should be a fairly comfortable victory for the Romanian Oaks, and Portugal host Ukraine in what is certain to be a comfortable romp to victory for the Portuguese.
Until next week…