Russias Rugby Union team have climbed back to the summit of the European Nations Cup table, after a hard fought 12-8 victory over Romania.
The win, secured only with two last-gasp penalties, sets up an thrilling winner takes all fight for the title next month, as Russia host old rivals Georgia.
Romania, traditionally a European rugby powerhouse, were never going to be an easy opponent. Lying third in the table, they trailed Russia and Georgia by just one point at the beginning of the match.
But, in front of 3,000 screaming fans at Krasnodar’s Stadium Junost, Russia kept their nerve and came from behind to edge past a determined and well drilled Romanian team.
Last gasp victory
After taking almost the entire game to grind out a 6-3 lead, Russia looked well placed to run down the clock and secure victory. But the Romanian players clearly hadnt read the script.
With just 12 minutes left to play, a magnificent drive by Romania’s forwards put replacement Valentin Ursache in position to score from a maul. The conversion was missed but the try was enough to take Romania into a narrow 8-6 lead.
Suddenly finding themselves behind, and with the game almost over, the Russians finally kicked into high gear. Romania managed to resist Russia’s relentless attacking play for 8 more minutes, but two penalties in the last four minutes from Yuriy Kushnarev, Russia’s fly-half, gave Russia a last gasp victory.
Russia vs Georgia winner takes all title fight
Russia now find themselves top of the European Nations Cup table, three points clear of old rivals Georgia.
Georgia have a game in hand and if, as expected, they beat Spain, the Lelos will go back to the top of the table on points difference to set up a thrilling climax to the European Nations Cup tournament on 12 April.
Russia, who lost 31-13 to Georgia in Tblisi last year will be the slight underdogs. Although Russia have risen to 16th in the world rankings – their highest ever – they are still two places behind the experienced Georgians. And Georgia, as some regular commenters will recall, came within a whisker of dumping Ireland out of this summer’s Rugby World Cup.
But with three consecutive wins under their belt, and thousands of home fans behind them, I wouldn’t bet against the Russian Bears winning their first major title.
Check back in a few weeks for a full match report…
(Image Credit: Russian Rugby Union).