A comprehensive 11–try win by Greece at the Glyka Stadium in Athens ensured that they finished top of European Group C – South, and will now face Norway in the play offs on neutral territory, most likely next spring.
Captain, scrum half Jordan Meads was the destroyer-in-chief, as he was in Ukraine the week before, racing in for two early tries to set the tone and finishing with 20 points.
“It was a much more physical game than the score line suggests,” said Greece head coach Michail Chatziioannou. “We were better prepared than we had been against Ukraine and that showed.
“We corrected our mistakes and mentally were stronger than them, we got momentum from the start and that accounted for the big result.”
Masterful Meads put his side 12-points ahead inside the first 10 minutes, confusing the Maltese defence as to whether he was going to run or pass.
Konstantinos Katsidonis crossed for the first of his two tries to extend the lead, Robert Tuliatu’s damaging running punching holes in the visiting rearguard.
Malta’s best spell came after a double penalty award, hooker Josh Caruana nipping over for an unconverted try and prop Dean Zammit could have narrowed the lead five minutes later but lost the ball in trying to crash over.
Tuliatu’s break up the middle made it 24-4 on the half hour and, just before the break, Meads sent out a perfect pass to half back partner Panteleimon Tsattalios which saw him cross, again Meads perfect with the boot.
From a surprise short kick off at the start of the second period, Rhodes Knight Tsattalios grabbed his second, Eugenios Malai going over soon after as the Greek forwards dominated.
In the 54th minute the hosts suffered a blow when the excellent Tuliatu was stretchered off with a suspected broken leg and, around the hour, the match took an unsavoury turn, referee Ben Casty putting Malai on report for a high tackle on Liam Davis; Alvaro Zota receiving a yellow and then red card and Malta’s Damien Davis a sin binning after a melee.
Despite being a man down in the closing stages, Greece finished strongly, hard running loose forward Terry Constantinou with two tries in three minutes and Mitchell Zampetides completing the try scoring; Nikolas Bosmos with his second conversion.
Disappointed Maltese head coach, James Camilleri commented: “We had a few players still learning and hopefully, next time we play, we will put on a better showing.”
Dimosthenis Kartsonakis, Nikolaos Kourkakis, Alvaro Zota, Konstantinos Katsidonis, Ioannis Nake, Panteleimon Tsattalios, Jordan Meads, Stefanos Bastas, Nikolaos Bosmos, Ioannis Rousoglou, Mitchell Zampetides, Robert Tuliatu, Terry Constantinou
Subs: Komninos Tsavaris, Eugenios Malai, Michail Bosmos, Konstantinos Koutras
Tries: Meads (6, 9), Katsidonis (18, 62), Tuliatu (31), Tsattalios (35, 41), Malai (50), Constantinou (65, 68), Zampetides (79)
Goals: Meads 6/9, N. Bosmos 2/2
Jake Scott, Shaun Chircop, Pete Debono, Jon Micallef, Jean Pierre Zarb, Liam Davis, Adam Campbell, Dean Zammit, Josh Caruana, Vince Farrugia, Damien Davis, Nicky Maylor, Joseph Pio Mizzi
Subs: Clive Sciberras, Liam Scicluna, Sam Blyton-Keep
Try: Caruana (25)
Goal: Zarb 0/1
Half time: 30-4