Bulgaria headed to Cyprus at the weekend sitting one point behind Rugby Europe men’s Conference 1 South leaders Israel and knowing that a win would give them the title.
However, Cyprus had other ideas and put in a fine performance to post a 35-17 victory, give themselves a third place finish in the table and make sure that Israel would be crowned champions in dramatic circumstances.
It all finished with Israel on 14 points from four games, Bulgaria on 13, Cyprus on 11, Malta on 10 and Slovenia on 0.
At the Cyprus Sports Association ground in Nicosia on Saturday, Bulgaria got off to the perfect start when their pressure won them the ball back and scrum-half Vasil Borisov ran in from long range. The try was converted.
In the 14th minute a nice move put winger Kai Star Phillips in for a try. Centre Dominic Georgiou converted to make it 7-7.
That score gave them confidence and when No.8 Alexander Georgiou scored a converted try to make it 14-7 as the first quarter of the game ended.
Five minutes later Bulgaria skipper Petar Nikolov, the stand-off, kicked a penalty to make it 14-10.
Just before the half hour mark Cyprus’ forward power earned them a penalty try and Bulgaria had a man sin binned and were 21-10 down into the bargain.
Moments before the break - and just before Bulgaria’s 15th man returned - Cyprus scored a fourth try through centre Yannis Loizias. Georgiou converted from out wide and it was 28-10 to the home side in scorching
The next points did not come until the 65th minute when Cyprus had a man yellow carded.
From the tap penalty straight after that incident, second-row Ivan Filipov powered over and Nikolov converted to make it 28-17 and give the visitors hope.
Eight minutes into the sin bin, 14 man Cyprus scored the all-important fifth try. It came from replacement Callum Cooper and it was converted.
That was in the 73rd minute before they held on for a 35-17 win.
Israel will now travel to Czechia to contest the play-off on 27 May at RC Mountfield Říčany at 2pm CET.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Denmark secured a second place finish in men’s Conference 1 North with a 22-10 away win in Norway.
The result in Stavanger means that the table finished with Finland top on 14 points, Denmark on eight, Andorra on five and Norway on 0.
And in men’s Conference 2 South, Montenegro defeated Türkiye 26-24 in a very entertaining match.
The result in the Madžarica Stadium means that Serbia finished top on 15 points, Bosnia & Herzegovina on eight, Montenegro on five and Türkiye on one.
There was good news for Türkiye last week though as they were approved as full members of World Rugby at the Annual Meeting of World Rugby Council held virtually on May 11. Previously they had been an associate member while Nepal and Qatar are also full members now.
By Gary Heatly
Photos by Stephen Nicolaou (Cyprus v Bulgaria) Danilo Dado Pavlovic (Montenegro v Türkiye),