The Malta rugby national team suffered their first defeat in the Conference South 1 qualifiers when they went down 7-3 in Croatia on Saturday.
The Maltese players produced a gallant display against the group leaders but could not break down the resolute Croatian defence who held firm, particularly in the second half when the visitors launched a series of attacks to try and turn the match in their favour.
Malta’s failure to make the most of their set-piece situations came back to haunt them as three penalty misses turned out to be the team’s downfall.
The Maltese had made a bright start and inside the fifth minute they were already 3-0 up when Chris Dudman managed to convert a central penalty kick.
But the Croatians came back strongly and managed to take a 7-3 lead when Jason Newton scored the only try of the match with the same player making no mistake from the conversion.
Just before the half-time interval Dudman had the chance to put Malta just one point behind, but he miscued his effort.
On 54 minutes, Croatia had Ivo Pericic sin-binned but the Maltese failed to make their numerical advantage count as Dudman again missed from another penalty, six minutes later as the hosts held on for the win.
Malta will now be back in action next Saturday when they host Israel at the Tony Bezzina Stadium.