RIGA — Latvia provided little challenge to Croatia on Saturday, going down 23-9.
It was small crowd that turned up to Daugava Stadium on Saturday to witness what is something of a rarity in this part of the world — international rugby. The anonymity of the sport here was evidenced in the hurriedly painted lines on a field which is more commonly used for football fixtures.
Latvia started the game well enough when winger Kristaps Bērziņš sunk an early penalty to put the home side up 3-0. However, this was as good as it got for the hosts in the first half. The few opportunities they did have were squandered by pointless kicking and a general lack of direction in any of their play.
On the contrary, Croatia played a much more controlled style of rugby, kicking well into the corners and stringing together any number of phases, effectively wearing the Latvian defense down.
Their first try came following one such kick into the corner. From the resulting line-out Latvia committed the cardinal sin in failing to throw the ball in straight then gave away a penalty, handing Croatia a line-out five meters out. Croatia’s throw was much more on target, setting up a good ball to crash over.
In the second period Croatia stretched the lead with a try coming to the winger in the corner following a period of strong Croatian forward play. Latvia continued to try and break the Croatian defense by running the ball at the line only to get stranded or attempt more optimistic kicking, neither of which worked.
In the end it was an optimistic kick that lead to Croatia’s third try when another pointless kick was snapped up by the Croatians who shuffled the ball through the hands for their first-five to go over in the corner. Converting his own try, the score went out to 17-3, giving them a strong lead with just 20 left to play.
Bērziņš managed to keep the Latvians in with a chance with two more penalty goals to bring them within 8. At this point however, the game became scrappy as Latvia began to resort to dirty tactics, seeing their flanker sent to the sin-bin for ten minutes. Croatia were given two more kickable penalties which were slotted with ease to take the score out to 23-9.
Most of the fans were seemingly unaware that their team had lost, having lost themselves in drunken oblivion, leading some to believe they were in fact at a hockey game with many of the chants referring to popular Latvian ice hockey team Dinamo Riga.
It has been a poor season for Latvia, failing to secure a win within the calendar year to date. This could not be in more of a stark contrast to their southern neighbors Lithuania who edge ever closer to securing a spot at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.