The Malta rugby national team were off to a winning start in the FIRA-AER Conference South 1 qualifiers when they beat Slovenia 24-10 in Ljubljana.
Damian Neill’s men put on an assured display on their return to international rugby after more than two years of stoppage due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There was little to separate either side in the first half as the match was a hard-fought affair with both teams pushing continuously in search of the breakthrough.
The Maltese enjoyed a lot of possession but time and again they were let down by their handling of the ball and distribution in their opponents’ final third that scuppered any hopes of a try.
Malta did finally break the stalemate shy of the half hour mark.
From a line-out deep into the right flank, the ball was controlled by Darren Deguara, and aided by his team-mates driving maul, he was pushed over the line for Malta’s first try of the match.
Chris Dudman made no mistake from the resultant conversion to put the visitors 7-0 ahead at half-time.
On the restart, the match maintained the same script with Malta doing a lot of running against the more physical Slovenians.
Malta’s pressure finally yielded a second try on 58 minutes when Brendan Dalton latched onto a long pass to touch the ball beyond the goal line deep into the right flank. Dudman missed the conversion to leave Malta 12-0 ahead.
Slovenia did finally get on the scoresheet on the hour with a drop goal from Filip Matevz.
But Malta soon extended their advantage on Slovenia with a third well-worked try.
Rob Holloway took the ball five metres out and whizzed past two players to score underneath the posts. Dudman made no mistake from the conversion to hand Malta a commanding 19-3 lead.
Slovenia kept fighting and were awarded a penalty try when a Maltese player pulled an opponent when trying to pull out of a scrum.
But Malta still had the final say when substitute Jon Micallef burst through on the left channel for a try and seal his team’s 24-10 victory
Malta will now be back in action next month when they host Israel at the Tony Bezzina Stadium on Saturday, November 13.