Portugal snatched victory from the jaws of defeat to beat 14-man Poland 25-22 in Lodz on Saturday and retain the Rugby Europe Trophy.
Winger Rodrigo Freudenthal came up with the match-winning try in the dying seconds as Os Lobos recovered from 25-10 down with just over half an hour left to play.
Portugal went into the game needing only a bonus point to secure a second straight title but, other than an eight-minute period in the first half, they found themselves behind on the scoreboard against their determined hosts.
Each side scored a try apiece before the break with Poland holding a slender 13-10 half-time advantage thanks to two penalties and conversion from the boot of fly-half Dawid Banaszek.
Full-back Przemyslaw Rajewski scored a quickfire brace for Poland at the start of the second half and it looked as if though the Netherlands, not Portugal, would be crowned Rugby Europe Trophy champions.
However, the game turned on its head when Poland flanker Aleksander Nowicki was sent off approaching the final quarter. Having already closed the gap to 10 points thanks to a try from scrum-half Manuel Queiros, Portugal capitalised on their one-man advantage to score again in the 73rd minute through winger Tomas Appleton and crucially put themselves within bonus point range.
Portugal’s record of never having won in Poland looked set to continue, though, until Freudenthal struck the killer blow in the final seconds.
As well as winning the Trophy for the second year in a row, Portugal gain half a rating point to boost their ranking to 59.51 points. They remain in 23rd place but are now only 15-hundredths of a point behind Hong Kong. Uganda and Lithuania benefit from Poland’s two-place drop to 36th.
Portugal will now play Germany for the right to play in next year’s Rugby Europe Championship as they build towards their RWC 2019 European play-off with Spain. The winner of that game will then face Samoa home and away with the successful team making it through to Pool A in Japan as the Play-off Winner.
Of the three fixtures that took place in the Rugby Europe Conferences this weekend, only Malta’s game against Andorra counted towards the rankings.
However, with nearly 12 points between themselves and their opponents, no gains were possible for the Maltese, who had already been confirmed as Conference 1 South champions before Saturday’s 89-3 victory. Malta are still ranked 37th with Andorra 33 places below them.
In Conference 2 South, a third straight win for Cyprus, 17-5 against Slovenia, cemented their place at the top of the table while Austria move up to second with one round left to play after a 56-0 win against Slovakia.
Main photo credit: Joao Peleteiro. Action photo credit: Manuel Gaivao
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