On Saturday 8th April the Gibraltar’s national rugby team took on Finland in what turned out to be one of the toughest fixtures the home side had faced at home to date. The visitors brought a level of intensity and physicality which proved very difficult to deal with for large portions of the game, much like their development XV had shown the evening before whilst beating Gibraltar’s Development XV by 17 points to 7.
The curtain was officially raised at 1pm with a number of demonstration games from the Gibraltar Minis section before Gibraltar’s under-12s took on a visiting side from Malaga. The local juniors ran out as 6 tries to 2 victors with some excellent displays of skill and handling from the youngsters, the future of Gibraltar rugby looking very safe in Tom Tunbridge’s capable hands.
Shortly after 3pm with dignitaries back in their seats after meeting and greeting both senior sides and anthems played, the fixture was underway with Gibraltar piling on the pressure for the first 5 to 10 minutes of play. Unable to break down the Finnish defence, the visitors soon began dealing with the home side’s fast-paced game very effectively and soon took control of the ball, and the game, for a sustained period of time.
The next 15 minutes of the game saw Finland press hard within the Gibraltar 22 with an attempted drop goal missed during a penalty advantage. Finland then opted for the scrum – owing to the howling and swirling winds – with a move to the near-side of the pitch. Finland crashed over the line but were held up, no try. The resulting scrum concluded with a penalty to the hosts and Gibraltar cleared their lines.
Gibraltar then moved the ball effectively through their backs once more and were soon putting the pressure on the visitors within their own 22. A penalty awarded to Gibraltar just 5 metres short was tapped quickly by Alexander “Chuqi” Cruz who ducked under the defence to score the first try and points of the game. Chuqi duly converted his own 5-pointer to put the hosts 7-0 up with 12 minutes of the first half left to play.
Minutes after the restart, the Finnish scrum-half box-kicks from a ruck just inside the Gibraltar half which caught the Gibraltar defence unawares. The bounce was favourable for the upcoming winger – Eetu Lahtivuori – who collects and sprints in under the posts for the visitors’ first try of the encounter.
Antti Lammi duly converted the simple kick from in front of the sticks and the teams were level at 7 points a piece. From the resulting kick off, Gibraltar were unable to deal with a fast move from the Finnish backs. A number of quick passes and Crispin Mäenpää dives in for a try in the corner. The conversion was never anywhere near the posts and the teams go in at half time with the visitors leading 12 points to 7.
Gibraltar started the second half with the same, frenetic intensity as they had started the first period of play. Keen to put the disappointing end to the first half behind them, the boys in red and white began piling on the pressure with hard carries from the forwards followed by various backs moves, trying to draw in defenders. The tactic pays off shortly after 10 minutes into the second half, and Tom Lovelace, having only just come on as a substitution for Albert Loddo, dives in for a try on the far side of the field. The conversion is missed and the teams are level at 12-12.
With less than 15 minutes to play, Gibraltar were awarded a very kickable penalty after a sustained period of pressure within the Finnish 22. Chuqi Cruz converted to put the local team 3 points up at 15-12. The physicality was showing across both teams, with Finland’s front row substitutions getting the better of Gibraltar’s replacements on multiple occasions, no sooner had the crowd calmed down after celebrating the penalty and the Finns form a strong rolling maul from a line out and drive the home side over the line to score. Hooker Mauno Konttila emerged from the mass of bodies with the ball and is awarded the 5 points.
Gibraltar, trailing 17 points to 15 with less than 5 minutes to go, refused to believe the battle was over. Pressing up the middle, they again drew in a number of Finland’s players to defend at the rucks, leaving space out wide. A simple move through the hands and Tom Lovelace was through the defence with only the whitewash between him and the second of his brace of tries. Chuqi Cruz added the extras with the boot and Gibraltar took the lead again with 3 minutes to play. With a five point deficit, Finland were unable to take the penalty they were awarded as the clock had turned red and opted to tap and go. The ball is knocked on at the breakdown and the final whistle rang out around the Victoria Stadium.
Final Score – Gibraltar 22-17 Finland
Written by Andy Blackburn