There were two other matches played outside of the conclusion of the Men’s Championship this weekend in Men and Women’s Rugby Europe Trophy 2022/23, starting with Ukraine v Sweden in the Men’s edition of the competition which took place in Split, Croatia.
The Stadium Stari plac hosted the fixture between Ukraine and Sweden, who were both looking to climb up the table having just one match each prior to this match.
It was a messy start to a game, with both sides lacking fluidity in attack owing to mistakes at the set-piece, with the lineouts proving to be a particularly challenging area as neither side were able to claim the ball cleanly. Yet, after just five minutes, Ukraine sent Sweden back at a rate of knots in the scrum, something that would become a trend as the game progressed.
Sweden had the chance to get on the scoreboard first, but fullback Hannes Nylén penalty effort went wide. Sweden would keep on pressurising Ukraine though, as scrum-half Philip Axelsson drew in defenders as he sniped from the ruck, making space for openside flanker Vaa Iuta to carry his side further up the pitch. The away side were generating quick ball and Ukraine were struggling to contain them and gave up a penalty. The Swedes made the most of the opportunity to kick to the corner, showing their attacking mindset as they rejected another kick at goal, but lost the line-out. This lack of accuracy was to cost them as Ukraine found a foothold in the match.
Ukraine stormed into Sweden’s half, and from another dominant scrum, their fly-half Anton Shashero was given time on the ball and offloaded wonderfully to Mykola Karasevych who went over for the game’s first try. Shashero would convert successfully, minutes before extending the lead with a penalty kick from around 40 metres out, after Sweden were adjudged to have been holding onto the ball in the ruck.
With Ukraine looking dominant, it was important that Sweden did not let their opponent build up a big lead, and Nylén reduced the deficit as he slotted over a penalty to make the score 10-3. However, it would be his opposite goal-kicker who would have the last laugh in the first half. The ball came to Shashero from a line-out, and he pirouetted out of an attempted tackle to race clear and score his side’s second try. This was the last play of the half, and having been successful with his conversion once again, the teams would head down the tunnel with the score at 17-3.
Ukraine would come firing out of the blocks in the second half, scoring their third try through replacement prop Oleksii Novikov who went over from close range. This made the score line read 24-3 in favour of the hosts, and it would be extended just after the hour mark as Shashero, who was very much pulling the strings in this game, caught his own chip to go over for Ukraine’s bonus point try.
Sweden did claim a try of their own though. After a yellow card had been shown to a replacement Ukrainian prop, Arthur Marini went over from an overthrown line-out. In the final ten minutes, the sides interchanged tries as Denys Primushenetskiy dotted down as the home side’s scrum went toward the Swedish line. Yet, the away side would score a brilliant consolation try through winger Alfred Nordgren, who was given time and space to beat a few defenders.
The final score would be 38-15, seeing Ukraine rise to second place and Sweden stay in fourth.
Czechia v Finland
This weekend Portugal gained promotion to the Women’s Championship following the game between Czechia and Finland.
This match would not display the same feats of individual skill nor free-flowing rugby as seen as the game in Split, as this fixture would be defined by strong defensive efforts from both sides but also unforced errors in attack.
In the first half, it was the home side who would be more dominant as they were camped on their opponent’s line. Yet, some impressive defence from Finland meant that both sides had not scored when the half time whistle was blown.
The second half followed in a similar vain to the first, with Czechia on the attack but mistakes ensuring that they did not get over the try line. The decisive moment in the game would come just after the hour mark as Anna Soiluva converted a penalty to put the away side in the lead.
From the following play, Czechia generated momentum in the Finnish 22, but a knock-on halted any chance for them to grab the win. Their last chance would come with the final play of the game, as Chechia won a penalty and took it quickly. Pavlína Cuprova made some ground before kicking the ball back to Finland, who kicked the ball dead and celebrated a historic victory.
This was the first time Finland have ever beaten in Czechia having lost twice and drawn once. This result saw them leapfrog Germany into second place, whilst the home side stay in fourth place.
By Paul Wilkinson
Photos: Berislaz Rozman and Czechia Rugby Union