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Georgia make it 7 in a row, Spain take Bronze in Paris

Georgia won the men’s Rugby Europe Championship for 2024 on Finals Day at the magnificent Stade Jean Bouin in Paris on Sunday.

They saw off Portugal in the Cup Final 36-10 in the evening to spark celebrations while Spain won the Bronze Final versus Romania before that to finish third.

In the Bronze Final, Spain defeated Romania 40-33 in a cracker.

They turned the tables as Romania had finished third last year after beating them.

Romania took the lead here after just five minutes.

Stand-off Hinckley Vaovasa’s neat kick out wide set up captain Marius Simionescu, the winger, who went over. Ionel Melinte, the full-back, could not convert and it was 5-0.

Spain were then attacking and getting towards the Romania try line when Romania centre Gabriel Pop intercepted.

He ran away, but knew he did not have the pace, so he fed it to Simionescuwho did the rest with good pace. Melinte converted and it was 12-0 and the perfect start for them.

Spain burst back into things with two tries in the 28th and 29th minutes.

Firstly, winger Martiniano Cian was set up by scrum-half Estanislao Bay and the speedster did the rest.

And then full-back John Bell showed skills of his own to go over. Stand-off Bautista Guemes converted both and suddenly they were 14-12 ahead.

In the 35th minute, Romania No.8 Adrian Mitu had a barrelling run, but was held up over the try line thanks to some good defence.

With the clock in the red at the end of the half, Spain showed great patience from short range and, eventually, captain Mario Pichardie scored their third try. Guemes kicked the conversion and it was 21-12 to them at the interval.

Romania needed a strong start to the second half, but it was Spain who went further ahead in the 44th minute when Pichardie, the back-row, went over for his second try, Guemes converted and it was 28-12.

It got even better for them in the 50th minute when a Cian break and an inside pass put centre Alvar Gimeno under the posts for try number five. Guemes converted and it was 35-12.

No.8 Ekain Imaz was then yellow carded for Spain and, in the 55th minute, Romania grabbed a lifeline with a try through centre Jason Tomane. Melinte converted and it was 35-19.

Into the last 10 minutes, Spain replacement hooker Santiago Ovejero scored a try and was then yellow carded.

The man advantage allowed Romania the chance to score a try through Tomane and sub Alin Conache converted to make it 40-26.

Mitu then scored with 45 seconds remaining - converted by Conache - before Spain held on to win 40-33.

Pichardie was named player of the match.

Pablo Bouza, the Spain head coach, said: “We started well, but the boys then came back really well and showed what we can do.

“At the end we were stretched, but we held on and I am pleased.”

Skipper Pichardie said: “We are very excited. This is the culmination of a few weeks of really hard work and I am so happy for my team because we have all put in a big shift for this third place.

“We are a very young squad and this is a big step forward which we can build on now.”

David Gerard, the Romania head coach, said: “We played just one half in the game - the first 20 minutes and the last 20 minuteS.

“To win a game you need to play for 80 minutes, I know we are not that experienced, but we needed more control in our play in general.”

And their skipper Simionescu said: “There are some positives to take from this game, but it took us too long to wake up.

“We needed to be more focused throughout the whole game.”

In the Cup Final, Georgia were dominant and won 36-10 to back up last year’s 38-11 last match result against the same opponents.

Portugal were dealt a blow early on when full-back Nuno Sousa Guedes was forced off injured to be replaced by Lucas Martins.

In the eighth minute, Georgia’s strong pack then won a scrum penalty and, a few phases later, stand-off Luka Matkava kicked a penalty to put them 3-0 up.

They were then held up over the try line before, in the 12th minute, Matkava kicked a second penalty to make it 6-0.

His third penalty of the day made it 9-0 after 29 minutes in this match where no quarter was being given by either side.

The referee Tual Trainini was not taking any nonsense in this one and, after a few warnings to both sides and some unstable scrums, he yellow carded Georgia loosehead prop Giorgi Akhaladze and Portugal tighthead prop Abel Cunha.

That was in the 32nd minute and, two minutes later after the Georgia patched up scrum had won a penalty, Matkava kicked his fourth penalty and it was 12-0.

With both teams still with 14 men and the clock in the red at the end of the half, Portugal scrum-half Hugo Camacho kicked a long-range penalty to make it 12-3 at the interval.

Almost immediately after half-time as 14 played 14 for the final minute, a cross field kick from Matkava found winger Akaki Tabutsadze and he dotted down for the game’s first try.

It was unconverted, but Georgia were now 17-3 up.

And in the 50th minute they went 22-3 up when a strong lineout drive saw hooker Vano Karkadze power over. Matkava converted and they were 21 points ahead.

Before the hour mark Georgia won a couple of crucial turnovers near their own try line as Portugal looked to try and bounce back.

Merab Sharikadze, the Georgian centre and skipper, and Portugal second-row Jose Madeira were then yellow carded on the hour mark after a fracas.

With 16 minutes to go, Georgia replacement Mikheil Alania set flyer Tabutsadze up for his second try and the unconverted score made it 29-3.

And five minutes later, sub Tedo Abzhandadze’s lovely break and inside ball set up Alania for a try of his own. Matkava converted and it was 36-3.

With seven minutes to go, Georgia replacement Luka Ivanishvili was yellow carded and Portugal scored a consolation try with a minute to go, sub Rodrigo Marta going over. Fellow replacement Hugo Aubry converted as it finished 36-10.

Player of the match was Tornike Jalagonia, the Georgian No.8.

Georgia captain Sharikadze said: “We are happy and we are proud, we have now won many finals in a row.

“We started to win this game right after the Rugby World Cup. We knew we were going to win the Championship final from that moment and we have worked hard for this.”

Jalagonia, the big ball carrying player of the match, said: “I am proud of the team, we did everything to win this match, the boys are tired, but that is because we gave it everything.”

João Mirra, a member of the Portugal coach, said: “It is not easy to see the positives right now, credit to Georgia they were better than us.

“We showed sparks, we are building a team for the future, but in this game Georgia were more physical than us.”

Portugal captain Tomas Appleton said: “We drew with Georgia in the Rugby World Cup and we just didn’t step up here.

“We trained hard on a number of things, but in this game we just could not get going and do what we wanted to do.”

Georgia are now unbeaten in 33 matches in this competition.

By Gary Heatly
Photos: Pedro Pinheiro 

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