Life of a Maltese Sportsman

Episode 2 – Rugby

Written by Kurt Aquilina

A series of articles about different Maltese athletes in their different ‘habitats’,
getting a feel for what their experience of playing their sport really feels like to them. 

 

Rugby was introduced by the British during their time in Malta. The first official rugby team was in fact the Overseas team in 1946. The game was quite popular until the 1970s when Malta became a republic and most of the players (who were part of the military) left back for home. The game was revived in the 1990s with a number of teams joining the Maltese League. Since 2006, women’s rugby got a drastic push into having their own league. Following my first article in the series about amateur football, I made my way to the Marsa Sports Complex this time to watch some Rugby. The match I went to watch was the top-of-the-table clash between Swieqi Overseas and Stompers.

 

 

This match was also an opportunity for me to meet up with Overseas player, Alberto Flores. Flores, has been here in Malta for almost four years now, three of them playing rugby with Overseas. He considers himself new to playing the sport, however, unlike his home town in Mexico, Flores said his experience of playing rugby has been much better. He described the game of rugby as “Lovely but misunderstood”. He spoke about how unlike football in Malta, rugby has less promotion despite having a national team which is ranked higher at the sport compared to football. When asked about the promotion of local matches, Flores said that this is terrible and that players should be recognised more. As someone going to watch my first rugby match, I had no idea if I had to get tickets beforehand and how much entry was. The only way to find out about local league matches is by word of mouth, or by being a player yourself. 

The match was scheduled to start at 1PM and by 12.45, most people were seated and ready for the match to start. Most of the supporters seemed to already know each other and the thing which impressed me is the sense of community between them; so much so that the stands became a sort of pic-nic area for them, sharing food and drink among themselves.

 

 

Flores described the Overseas-Stompers matches as pretty balanced in terms of support. When asked about his take on the forty/fifty supporters who were following the team’s progress by attending these matches, he remarked that the new president of the ‘Malta Rugby Football Union’ is looking to invest in new stands in order to accommodate more and more supporters.

He spoke about how match day for a rugby player begins from the training sessions during the week. Rugby is not the players’ full-time job and so, Flores said that training is part of the post-work routine. The night before is also very important as he makes sure that he gets enough rest, drinks lots of water and eats nutritious foods, all while watching motivational videos in order to get into the mood.

On match day, the team meets early to change into their gear and start their preparations. At around noon, they start their warm up as a team, going from a light run to their final match warm up. Unlike most of other local sports, the match referee came all the way from Manchester to officiate the match. Flores insisted that this is beneficial both for the team themselves in order to have an objective referee in charge, as well as for other officials to learn from the more professional ones which take care of these top-tier matches.

The match began on time as Stompers kicked the first ball. It certainly lived up to the hype as both teams battled out for the win. It was Stompers who took the advantage immediately at the beginning of the match by scoring the first try. They proceeded to dominate the game right until Half-time where they broke up at a score of 19-7 for Stompers. Overseas reacted to the first half by going all out to try and equalize. However, after reaching 19-19, all went south as Stompers took charge once again and end the match at 38-24. The match even got heated at times, with players breaking into a fight on two occasions. Despite all this, both teams gave what looked like a ‘guard of honour’ to each other after the match which showed a kind of sportsmanship I had never seen in other sports before.

 

 

Speaking about Stompers, Flores described them as their ‘boogey team’. Both teams are currently the two best teams in the league. Stompers have won their last three meetings against Overseas, following the latter’s victory in the Ray Ellis Cup which is the equivalent of the Super Cup. Regarding the match I watched, Flores was out of the squad and was able to review the match upfront. He called the performance as ‘nervous’ and that following this they would have to work on discipline. Getting close on many occasions, the team had to make sure they worked hard on that and also to improve their line-speed.

Malta’s rugby team is currently ranked at number 39 of the World Rugby rankings by the International Rugby Board (IRB) since becoming a full member in the year 2000. This means that the sport has the highest ranked national team in Malta. The team has produced a couple of impressive scores during 2017, beating both Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Croatia.

 

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