The final day of the U18 Championship took place in Kaliningrad on Saturday with four matches to decide the final rankings of the tournament.
Two of the games were at the Selma Stadium, Romania v Czechia (7th Place play-off) and Spain v Belgium (3rd place play-off), while the other pair of matches were at the Kaliningrad Stadium as Russia played the Netherlands (5th place) with the final being contested between Georgia v Portugal to conclude the tournament.
We take a look at the analytical points of where the games were won and lost.
THE CHAMPIONS: THE LELOS SUPREMACY
A thumping start from the Georgian side unlocked the pathway for a third consecutive U18 championship, unleashing their best to break Portugal’s strong collective defense, displaying their best "weaponry": rolling maul; monstrous tackling; effective counterplays; and ingenious individual plays that gave a different flavor to the final.
Georgia didn't concede any tries in all three rounds, with only Belgium scoring one penalty in 210 minutes of play, proof of how complete or, if we dare, perfect squad this U18's Lelos are, respecting their adversaries from the start to finish. Portugal tried to even the game in the first ten minutes of the second half, prompting a breakdown battle that gave some hope to the young Lobos, but falling short in their opportunities to reach the try area, as the Georgians never conceded space or mistakes.
The top-performers of the final were the same ones who caught all the attention in the previous games: number-eight Nikolozi Sutidze, fullback Saba Archvadze (a truly gifted and special showstopper), winger Shalva Aptsiauri, prop Irakli Aptsiauri, and scrum-half Davit Khuroshvili.
Once again, Georgia ruled over the competition, clinched a 27-00 win in the final, and fully deserve the title of the best team between the eight national squads.
THE BRONZE: SPAIN WITH A WIN
Last editions finalists, Spain, finished their 2021 U18's campaign with a bronze medal with a third place finish, after defeating a valiant Belgian side by 46-07.
Daniel Catanzaro, Spain's inside centre, was one of the outstanding players of the day thanks to his handling skills and eccentric footwork, opening some of the best gaps in the opposition line, especially when the ball was delivered in the defense face, applying a quick step that would make Cheslin Kolbe proud, breaking the line or scrambling Belgium's defense strategy (held together for the first 15 minutes), which drove Los Leones forward and on the right path.
In the last 35 minutes of the match was almost completely controlled by the Spanish side, making perfect use of their lineouts and setpiece plays lead by lock Asier Perez (flew under our radar and deserves recognition for his work-rate, endurance, and offloading skills), number-eight Manex Ariceta and hooker Alvaro Garcia, who was able to turn the tables after a shock loss to Portugal in the semi-finals.
For the Belgians, they battled well against Spain's brutal and quick attacking plan for the first quarter of the game, although not giving up without putting up a good fight, as seen with some strong tackling by Delis Lafargue (one of the best Belgians prospects), Florian Remue or Nathan Dieval. Spain won and deserves praise, and must seek the positives to build on.
Man of the Moment: Daniel Catanzaro (Spain) – skills, skills and more skills, painting a beautiful canva of breaklines for Los Leones U18
THE CLUTCH: RUSSIA AND NETHERLANDS, A BOUT TO REMEMBER
The title caption doesn't do justice to the last five minutes of the game between Russia and The Netherlands, with the former earning themselves a 5th place after pushing their forwards over the try-line, when the clock just had hit the 67th minute, skyrocketing the uncertainty and doubt of who was going to win in this very tight contest. After some knock-on's and tug-of-war, the Dutch side had one last big opportunity to go for what would've been a historical victory, as Mees Voets escaped and ran towards Russia's own territory... However, the centre was superbly tackled, to result in a turnover made by Dmitrii Dronov.
Conclusion? A penalty favoring Russia and the final whistle. Even if we could debate that the match had some convoluted periods of time, the sheer persistence and belief in all the players, raised the emotion levels to the highest degree, as could be seen by the two camps at full time.
Russia tried and, to a certain point, had a slight dominion in the forwards duel, but couldn't overtake the Dutch dynamic defense and breakdown strategy (if couldn't jackal the ball cleanly, they slowed down the exit), with some players rising to the occasion like Dutch flanker Teun Krast (1 try, 3 turnovers and more than 10 tackles) and Russian number-eight Evgenii Karonnov. The final score of 13-07 seems to tell the whole story of what happened in the game, but the effort from both sides deserves a deeper look as there were real bout of attrition in this entertaining match.
THE EFFORT: SOLID ROMANIA TAKE 7th Place
Romania dominated in the set-piece and were able to find some of their mojo while passing and running with the ball, and showed some glimpses of their national sides classic features (solid maul, well placed high kicks, and bold physicality) making sure they crossed the try-line for six times, but the way the Czechia future rugby generations held up and tried to fight on the same level as their rival was special and the best example of resilience and love for the game.
For Romania, they will feel as though they could have done better for underperforming must not be seen as a bad omen for the future, but a motivational stepping stone to come back stronger.
It isn't easy to face the strongest Rugby Europe's youth nations and hold the same passion, commitment, and fighting spirit throughout the whole campaign, whilst trying to present their best and grow after every match, although they were unable to win in any of the three rounds Czechia’s endeavors and efforts were clear to see, although the score finished 8-38 in favour of the young Oaks.
Man of the Moment: Toni Maftei (Romania) – didn’t get himself on the try-scoring sheet, but was an everlasting threat to the opposition, escaping his tacklers for six times while breaking the line on another three occasions.
By Francisco Issac
Photos: Russian Rugby Union