The Czech Republic warmed up for their Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifier against Portugal in three weeks’ time with a 19-14 win over Poland in Prague that lifts them up two places in the World Rugby Rankings to 30th.
After a quiet first half in which the Czechs led by two penalties to one, the opening match of the Rugby Europe Trophy 2018 season burst into the life after the break with the lead changing hands no less than four times in the space of 14 frenetic minutes.
Full-back Przemyslaw Rajewski crossed in the 45th minute to put Poland in front for the first time in the match but their narrow advantage barely lasted five minutes as opposite number Petr Cizek slotted his third penalty for the Czechs.
Jedrzej Nowicki’s penalty put Poland back in front but, once again, the Czechs made sure their joy was short-lived, fly-half Jan Kucera strolling over near the hour mark after the home pack had created space out wide with a series of close-quarter drives.
The decisive blow came 10 minutes from time, blindside flanker Vojtech Havel bouncing off one tackle and going through another to score from 20 metres out. The victory was worth 0.62 of a rating point to the Czechs, while Poland stay in 34th position.
Lithuania and Ukraine traded places in the rankings, moving to 37th and 38th respectively, despite both sides beginning their Conference 1 North campaigns on a winning note.
Right-wing Domantas Baguzis scored a hat-trick and second-row Darius Vaitkevicius bagged a brace in a 33-19 win for Lithuania over Latvia in Jelgava that was worth 1.08 rating points.
It lifted Lithuania onto 50.01 points overall – 0.29 more than Ukraine whose total only received a three-hundredth boost for beating a Swedish side that began the weekend some 24 places and nearly seven points below them in the rankings.
Fly-half Sergiy Tserkovniy and openside flanker Valentyn Lytvynenko starred for Ukraine in the 29-8 win with a brace of tries apiece.
MALTA UP THREE
In Conference 1 South, Malta had their match against Bosnia and Herzegovina well and truly sewn up by half-time as they enjoyed a 40-8 lead at the break. Winger James Kirk’s second try saw Malta bring up a half-century of points in the 51st minute, before the hosts scored a couple of late consolation tries for a final scoreline of 52-20 in the visitors’ favour.
Malta move up three places to 42nd, relegating Sri Lanka, Morocco and Kazakhstan one place in the process. Croatia also climbed three, to 54th, overtaking the Cayman Islands, Mexico and the Cook Islands, after a 32-17 win over Israel.
BIG GAINS FOR SLOVENIA
With a six-place rise to 69th, Slovenia were the biggest climbers of the weekend. A 30-21 win away to Serbia in Conference 2 North saw them pick up 1.13 points to boost their tally to 38.81, but the result was in doubt until the latter stages after a back-and forth game.
Slovenia raced into a 17-0 lead by the end of the first quarter thanks to a brace of tries from Jaka Sajevic and tight-head prop Tim Nigerl. But Serbia hit back to score three tries of their own, all of them converted, to lead 21-20 at half-time. Flanker Max Skofic put Slovenia back in front within eight minutes of the restart and a 68th-minute penalty from replacement Crt Zeleznik secured the win.
In Conference 2 North, Denmark won 24-12 away to Norway, a victory that lifts them up two places to 85th.
The Danes led 19-12 at half-time after tries from hooker Rasmus Dufke, scrum-half Mikkel Jensen and winger Christian Melgaard.
The only other points of the match came shortly after half-time when Melgaard dotted down for the second time. The defeat dropped Norway two places to 97th with the Solomon Islands and Bulgaria the beneficiaries.
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