Ukraine celebrated their return to test rugby after one year out with a 27-22 win over Croatia in the Rugby Europe Trophy in Zagreb on Saturday.

In doing so, they improved their position in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, by moving above Czechia into 35th place.

Ukraine were in command of the scoreboard from the moment giant second-row Ruslan Radchuk intercepted a pass in the seventh minute and charged home from 40 metres out.

The visitors added a further two first-half tries, including another intercept scored by winger Narek Manukyan, to lead 24-10 at half-time. 

Croatia were much-improved after the break and rallied strongly but, as they promised before kick-off, Ukraine played with “fire in their hearts” and held on for a famous win.

The defeat cost newly-promoted Croatia four places in the rankings and they are now 42nd.

Having been beaten by Bulgaria in their opening Rugby Europe Conference 1 South fixture, Malta bounced back in style on Saturday by going to Slovenia and winning 46-10.

Philippe Ioffe, Mariano Cutajar and Brendan Dalton each helped themselves to two tries apiece while Liam Scicluna and Matthew Spiteri were the other try scorers for Malta.

The victory lifts them above Lithuania and Sri Lanka into 46th place.

In Conference 2 North, Finland maintained their perfect start to the season with a 22-3 win at home to Norway.

Finland have picked up maximum points from both of their opening fixtures to sit top of the table on 10 points.

With just over nine rating points between themselves and the lower-ranked Norway, though, the victory did not come with any additional reward in the rankings and they remain in 78th.

Photo: Christine Borg