Netherlands ended their 2023 men’s Rugby Europe Championship campaign with a bang and they want to take momentum from that into the 2024 edition of the tournament.
They won three games out of five last year, beating Germany in the pool stage before a play-off win against Belgium set them up for the fifth-place match against the Germans.
Cheered on by a home crowd in Amsterdam, Netherlands won that convincingly 50-28 and they are certainly a rugby country on the rise.
In that play-off final match in 2023, the first points were on the board after just a few seconds, a Germany clearance kick being charged down and Netherlands scrum-half Hugo Schöller bagging a try. Full-back David Weersma converted.
After six minutes they doubled their lead in front of their home fans when Willie Du Plessis, the stand-off, notched up a converted effort.
Netherlands skipper Hugo Langelaan, the loosehead prop, was the next try scorer and when it was converted it was 21-0 within the first quarter.
Five minutes before half-time, hooker Ross Bennie-Coulson completed Netherlands perfect first 40 minutes with a seven pointer.
Germany were shellshocked, but they started the second half on the front foot and a good break by centre Leo Wolf put replacement Nikolas Rinklin in for a try. Winger Edoardo Stella converted.
An excellent driving maul by Netherlands then saw Bennie-Coulson grab his second try. It was unconverted, but they were 33-7 up after 47 minutes.
With 25 minutes to go Christophe Raymond, the No.8, scored their sixth try and Weersma converted to make it a 33 point advantage.
Just before the hour mark Wolf grabbed Germany’s second converted try before, in the 62nd minute, they were awarded a penalty try and it was 40-21. The Netherlands also lost a man to the sin bin at that time.
With 12 minutes to go - and with 14 men - try number seven came for the hosts when back-row Wolf van Dijk went over from a lineout drive. It was not converted.
There was still time for skipper Felix Lammers to score Germany’s fourth converted try while things finished when replacement Mark Darlington scored a five pointer for the hosts.
Fast forward 11 months and it all starts again for Netherlands back at that same National Rugby Center ground in Amsterdam this Saturday when they take on Spain in what should be a cracking contest.
“After the way last year went, we are very excited,” 25-year-old second-row Bloemen said.
“We’ve got a good group of players who partly grew up together through the youth system and we all want to play for each other and the country.
“Playing in the Rugby Europe Championship gives many different challenges with the different teams involved and we’ve been working hard and have made a lot of progress during the recent training time.
“We’ve been progressing ever since we came into the Championship and we want to continue on this positive curve.”
Bloemen has now played 12 times for Netherlands and explained: “It’s always a special moment for me and my family when I get to play for my country.
“This is especially the case at home when you walk out and sing the anthem and you see your family in the stands.”
On March 17, the Rugby Europe Championship Finals will be held at the home of Stade Français at the Stade Jean Bouin in Paris.
All eight teams will be involved in a real festival of rugby and Bloemen added: “It’s going to be good to have a central place for all the finals.”
NETHERLANDS vs SPAIN will be live-broadcast on ZIGGO in Netherlands and MOVISTAR+ in Spain.
Pictures by Dennis Van De Sande
By Gary HEATLY