Russia, Georgia and Portugal all opened their 2011-2012 European Nations Cup campaign with wins this weekend. Here’s a quick roundup of the week’s matches.
Russia gained their win over Spain in a hard fought encounter in Madrid. Russia roared into a large early lead, courtesy of first half tries from star scrum half Alexander Yanushkin, centre Vladimir Ostrushko and a try early on in the second half by flanker Victor Gresev. Combined with a penalty, Russia had a comfortable 22-3 lead after 42 minutes, and looked to be cruising towards a bonus point.
But, cheered on by their home crowd, Spain fought back with three tries of their own to give Russia an almighty scare. So much of a scare, in fact, that Russia couldn’t score the fourth try needed to secure a bonus point, a failure which could cost Russia dear later in the tournament.
All the more so as Georgia were ruthless in picking up a bonus point against newly promoted Ukraine. In front of a 10,000 strong Tbilisi crowd, they ran ten tries past their former Soviet comrades en route to a 62-3 victory that puts them safely on top of the table.
In the weekend’s third match, Portugal overcame tough opposition from Romania, eventually running out 24-17 winners. They’ll be satisfied with the win against a Romanian team that looked pretty good late last season, and had been playing some of their best rugby for quite some time. Like Russia, though, Portugal will probably rue their inability to score the fourth try that they needed to secure a bonus point.
All in all, there were no big surprises over the weekend, although Russia will be relieved to have made it through a potentially awkward away match given their poor performance in recent friendly internationals. Russia have won only one out of six international matches since the end of last season’s European Nations Cup, including most depressingly, a 75-3 drubbing by Japan.
Three more matches await on Saturday as Portugal travel to Sochi to take on Russia in the pick of the weekend’s matches, Georgia stay at home for a slightly tougher match against Spain, and Romania travel to Ukraine where they’ll hope to pick up an easy five points. As ever, I’ll bring you the results next week.
Update: Here’s an interesting preview of the European Nations Cup. The only thing to note is that the last ENC was a two-season long tournament and, although Romania did best in the second of the two seasons, Georgia won the tournament overall, with Russia finishing second overall, and Romania third overall.