A penalty goal from Jordan Meads sealed a 28-26 win for Greece against Ukraine at the Dinamo Stadium, Kharkiv.
If the Greeks now earn a point at home to Malta in Athens, they will take the European Championship C – South crown, and play either Germany or Norway from the North group in a play-off for the next round of European 2021 World Cup qualifying matches, in 2019.
Both sides scored four tries in front of an enthusiastic crowd. The hosts came from 20-8 down at the break to leave the visitors hanging on for the final ten minutes.
Greek head coach Michail Chatziioannou commented: “It was a very physical game, as we expected, and all the boys gave all their heart in both teams; all my respect to the Ukrainians who were really impressive.
“Thankfully, we won but we need to minimise our mistakes next time.”
Half-back Meads controlled the key periods, ably backed up by Sebastian Sell who was a powerhouse throughout with his storming runs. Greece made a perfect start, full-back Dimosthenis Kartsonakis went over in the corner.
The Ukrainian forwards, led by prop Aleksandr Kozak often drove their opponents back, Sell’s countering offloads proved to be their Achilles heel and their three quarters were hesitant under Meads’ kicks.
Aleksandr Sherbina thought he’d scored on a fine diagonal run in the 11th minute, only for Meads’ despairing tackle to force him in to a double movement, and two minutes later, Meads showed the way as he scampered over from 10 metres out and he added the conversion.
Ukraine survived a goal-line drop-out but twice knocked on in their own half, Sell with a piercing run taken on by Ioannis Rousoglou, and Meads sent half-back partner Nikolaos Bosmos over through Anatoliy Grankovskiy’s tackle to make it 14-0.
Ukraine gathered the short kick-off and then won a one-on-one steal, Sviatoslav Andrieichenko getting on the outside of his man to go over in the corner for their first points, and impressive full-back Bogdan Veprik showed great strength to crash between three defenders from close in, Aleksandr Skorbach missed his second shot at goal.
It seemed as though the home side would go in only a score behind but they conceded again, somewhat bizarrely, just before the break. On the last tackle near the Ukrainian line, Meads looked to get an offload away which was snaffled by Sherbina. Instead of taking the tackle and waiting for the half-time hooter, he chose to try and ship the ball on, opposite number Terry Constantinou – who was a threat throughout – snaffling it and going over near the posts for Meads to goal.
Ukraine were out early for the second half and started it well amongst a flurry of tries. Skorbach’s fine pass sent in Oleksandr Sivokoz across, Meads again countering with a try on a last tackle play. Ukraine again rescued a short kick off, centre Nikolay Shalaiev powered his way over for Skorbach to again narrow the gap to six points.
Meads took the opportunity to extend that to two scores in the 63rd minute, kicking a penalty from 20 metres out, however, with ten minutes to go, Skorbach crossed and added the extras to set up an extremely tense finish. Veprik pulled of an astonishing try saving tackle on Komninos Tsavaris and more desperate home defence denied Konstantinos Katsidonis as the Greeks just held on.
Veteran home skipper Skorbach commented: “We made a lot of mistakes in the first half and that just left us too much to do. We had to chase the game and nearly managed it but that is something we need to work on. The try just before half time hurt us.”
Ukraine: Bogdan Veprik; Sviatoslav Andrieichenko, Mikhail Troyan, Nikolay Shalaiev, Anatoliy Grankovskiy, Aleksandr Skorbach; Mikhail Pavliv; Vladimir Radchik, Dmitii Semerenko, Aleksandr Kozak, Andrei Shakura, Evgeni Trusov, Aleksandr Sherbinada. Subs: Igor Yurkin, Ostap Grishchenko, Oleksandr Sivokoz, Dmitii Kaevich.
Greece: Dimosthenis Kartsonakis; Michail Bosmos, Konstantinos Katsidonis, Alvaro Zota, Nikolaos Kourkakis; Nikolaos Bosmos, Jordan Meads; Stefanos Bastas, Ioannis Nake, Ioannis Rousoglou, Robert Tuliatu, Sebastian Sell, Terry Constantinou. Subs: Eugenios Malai, Panteleimon Tsattalios, Komninos Tsavaris, Konstantinos Koutras.
Starman: Jordan Meads