As I’m sure all of you noticed in the midst of Rugby World Cup 2019 pool play, Rugby Europe’s 2019-2020 cycle opened last weekend as the Czech Republic dominated Hungary, 64-0 in Conference One North play!
The Rugby Europe slate has 7 big matches on it, all available to view free on RugbyEurope.TV !
Women’s – Finland (World Rugby Ranking: 51) hosts the Czechs (WR Rank: 56th of 56) in Helsinki, Noon local kickoff
This match is part of a doubleheader as the Men’s side hosts Moldova as well at Myllypuro Sports Park! This is the first clash of the 2019-20 REIC Women’s Trophy. Sweden (WR Rank: 19) and Switzerland (WR Rank: 41) will also participate in the competition!
The Finnish program returned after a three year hiatus in 2017 and they’ve played three matches since then, all losses (39-10 to Sweden October 2017, 20-5 to Switzerland last October in Helsinki and 15-0 to the Czechs in Prague in March 2019). Beyond that win over Finland, the Czechs have a recent 10-5 road win over the Swiss last November to give them confidence and build points to improve their World Rugby ranking, because they certainly aren’t the worst team going!
Sweden is clearly the side to beat in the tourney but more matches is the main goal and given the history, the fans in Helsinki can expect a good one Saturday.
Men’s Conference Two North:
Finland (WR 90) v Moldova (WR 55), Helsinki 1400 local kickoff
Save a 24-7 loss to now promoted Latvia, Finland ran the table with Conference Two North last campaign! However, they barely edged now relegated Austria 32-29 and held off Denmark 22-18. They’ll face a stern test in Moldova, who went 1-3 in Conference One North last year with a win over Ukraine…who won Conference One North and was promoted into the REIC Trophy competition (Malta couldn’t contest the playoff if you’ll remember)!! The Moldovans have gone from the Rugby Europe Trophy in 2017 to Conference One last year to Conference Two this year. Despite that trip down the slide, the Moldovans should be a few notches above the level of this conference and should make a statement to that effect Saturday.
Norway (WR 95) v Denmark (WR 78), Lade Idrettsanlegg, Trondheim 1400 local kickoff
The Danes came out on top in this fixture in 2018, 42-10. Three tries from #13 Cassius Deschamps led the way and he’ll be in at #13 Saturday as well. Norway’s lineup looks vastly different this year with only four starters returning from last year’s fixture…and only two at the same position (the center Lindqvist and the flanker Saeby). With Moldova entering in a tailspin down the Rugby Europe ladder and a close loss to Finland fresh in their minds, Denmark will be looking to make the jump to Conference One North this go round.
Norway’s salvation from the basement of the pool last cycle was a 9-6 win over Austria. They were a pool worst -58 in point differential and scored a total of five tries in four matches, conceding 14 tries as well.
Men’s Conference Two South:
Turkey (WR Unranked) v Andorra (WR 76) – Kizilcahamam Ilce Stadyumu, Ankara 1500 local kickoff
The Turks are celebrating a Rugby Europe Development title they earned in May, winning a pair of matches over Estonia 104-39. They’ll be excited for a home match and to be up in Conference Two South! This post is testament to that feeling! However, they haven’t seen this level of competition in a number of years. The Turks forfeited their 2016-17 schedule and lost out to Bulgaria in the 2018 Development Group, 39-25.
The Andorrans went 2-2 last season in this group with wins over Slovakia (27-14) and Serbia (33-0).
Side note: The Rugby Europe Development Pool looks strong this year with four sides competing: Belarus, Estonia, Montenegro and Slovakia!
Bulgaria (WR 87) v Serbia (WR 85) – National Sports Academy, Sofia 1500 local kickoff
The Bulgarians got this one on the road last cycle, 35-29…expect another excellent show in Sofia! The Serbs will come with a vastly different lineup for this one with most of the squad changed from 2018 whereas the Bulgarians counter with a lineup that saw action in last year’s clash. The winner will be primed to challenge for the pool crown!
Men’s Conference One North:
Hungary (WR 68) v Latvia (WR 57) – Budapest Rugby Center, Kincsem Park, Budapest 1400 local kickoff
Latvia will be targeting this match-up as Hungary went 1-3 in the group last year and is coming off a 64-0 loss last weekend. The Latvians are newly promoted here and will want to stay. The Latvians have also won two of the last three matches between the two since 2016. But, Hungary has the home field advantage! Also, the Union is celebrating their 50th anniversary. All that event hosting and promotion the Hungarians have done in past years will certainly help draw their best crowd for this occasion in a new stadium.
Men’s Conference One South:
Croatia (WR 47) v Israel (WR 61) – Stadion Stjepan Spajic, Zagreb – 1500 local kickoff
This looks like one heck of a pool with Slovenia back in alongside Malta, Cyprus and Saturday’s participants! This should be the match of the weekend as these two locked up in a 19-16 clash that Croatia won last October in Zagreb. These two are very similar squads and the winner will certainly contend for the pool title. But it’s all up in the air here.
Croatia lost a warm-up match to the Oxford Blues, 78-10 last Sunday. Israel has a young squad heading to Zagreb with no less than six players making their debut in blue and white! The Captain, #8 Gilad Goldstein, will be a stabilizing presence for the young guys with over 60 caps for his country.