Monaco 9 – Greece 21

At about 17.00 on Saturday 23rd February, on top of a mountain overlooking Monte Carlo, Greek rugby put itself firmly on the European map with a resounding 9-21 victory over Monaco. A stirring, passionate performance from a young and inexperienced Greek side put their much vaunted opponents in the shade. An early try followed by two late scores ensured Greece eased to victory in the end by a comfortable margin.

Truth be told, the match was won in the tunnel before the game even started. With the teams lined up opposite each other the Greeks stared down their opponents, creating a cacophony of noise by stamping their boots on the concrete floor, the Monegasque meanwhile could not even look their aggressors in the eye. The Hellenes sensed an unlikely victory was in the offing.

Incredibly the scorers were troubled as early as the 5th minute when flanker Nikos Mavreas secured the ball at a line-out on the Greek 22-metre line, the ball was flown straight out to the backs, who were clearly under instruction to get the ball wide early in attempt to outflank a narrow Monaco defensive line. The ball arrived in the hands of captain George Tsatsaronis who threw out a long miss pass towards star wing Chris Fiotakis. Fiotakis collected the ball, spun past the onrushing Monaco defenders and exploded down the right touchline, handing off his opposite number before stepping inside the covering fullback and flying in under the posts unopposed. Fullback Alex Mendoros added the extras and Greece were off and running with a 0-7 lead from their first attack.

The Monegasque would not be kept quiet though and their effective territorial kicking game was gaining them a foothold in the match. From one such kick arrived their first opportunity to reduce the arrears. With Mendoros having to hurry a clearing kick Monaco gained a line-out just inside Greek territory from which they mauled their way up to outside the Greek 22, in desperation the Greek pack spoiled the momentum by dragging the maul to the ground leaving the referee with no option but to award a penalty which was duly slotted by Monaco 13. 3-7.

The first-half despite its bright opening, lacked flow, with both teams battling for supremacy up-front the backs were restricted to trying to feed off scraps. The Greeks staunch blitz defence, led by fly-half Anestis Karageorgiou was further exacerbating Monaco’s tendency to kick away any ball that they had in attempt to gain ground. A second penalty by Monaco 13 brought the difference to within a point at 6-7.

One flurry of excitement came midway through the half when Tstatsaronis looped around in support of a typical Fiotakis burst into the line, who popped the ball off to his captain who then straightened through a gap in the defensive line. Looking for support Tsatsaronis found it in the willing running of debutant Markos Makrikostas. The Athens Spartans wing collected the ball and set off around the outside of the Monaco defence, putting in a well judged grubba kick as he ran out of space which he just failed to recover before it ran out of play.

The scoreline could have been quite different though had one of Mendoros’ own three penalty attempts been successful, the first of which did in fact look to have crept inside the left hand upright but the linesmen disagreed, much to the dismay of the Greek players and bench. Meaning that the half-time score saw the teams turn around with only a point between them.

Coach Niall Doherty clearly planned to play his trump card by releasing explosive flanker Philippos Sotiriadis from the bench at the beginning of the second-half. In theory this may have seemed like a sound move, however, in practice the opposite became apparent when Sotiriadis reacted to some erroneous Monegasque feet in a ruck which the referee deemed to be worthy of a yellow card and 10mins in the sin-bin. From the ensuing penalty Monaco took their first lead of the match, 13 confidently sliding the ball between the posts to give the game a more expected scoreline of 9-7.

Greek plans to contest the strong Monaco line-out were dealt a potentially fatal blow 10mins into the half when key jumper Theo Divanis fell awkwardly, dislocating his right shoulder. However, Doherty had an able replacement in Stavros Bochoris of Spartakos Thessalonikis to send on in his place and Bochoris set about adding some much needed go-forward to the pack. Sensing that this was the moment to seize the initiative Doherty replaced hooker Chris Panagiotopoulos, who had run himself ragged both in attack and defence, with George Gravalas on 58mins, and 2mins later he made the change which proved to be the turning point of the match.

Athens fullback Michael Loizou was sent on in place of Mendoros and was immediately tested with a Gary Owen by Monaco 10. Taking the catch on the 22metre-line Loizou burst right with Fiotakis in support. Seeing the Monaco defence backing off at the thought of Fiotakis taking the ball at pace, Loizou launched a bomb of his own, chasing his own kick he contested the ball with Monaco 15 disrupting the latters attempts to gather, the ball broke loose to Karageorgiou who hacked through and looked set to touch down under the posts, but with the Monaco defence closing in he unselfishly stepped aside for captain Tsatsaronis to come through at pace, collect a beautiful bounce and dive over under the posts to put the Greeks back in the driving seat. Loizou added the extras to put Greece up 9-14 and in sight of hugely significant victory.

One further change, Tsampaos for Demertzis, who had given all in his first appearance for the national team gave the scrum some added power, which lead to the score that decided the result once and for all. A Monaco defensive scrum inside their 22 was sent sprawling backwards by a huge Greek shove, allowing scrumhalf Vassilis Katsakos to pick the pocket of his opposite number and fly past a static disbelieving Monaco backline to score his first try for Greece. The conversion was dispatched by Loizou, leaving Greece in an incredible 9-21 lead.

Unfortunately Katsakos’ afternoon of brilliance was brought to an end following a huge hit on the Monaco 11 which was adjudged to be high by the referee, who sent the young star to cool off in the sin-bin for the final moments of the game. He was followed shortly after by Monaco 7 for throwing a punch which nearly ended Sotiriadis’ game early for a second time.

With both teams down to 14 players for the final few minutes there was just enough time for the Greek pack to stamp their authority once and for all. An attacking scrum for Monaco was sent rolling back, a message to the Monegasque that they would not pass.

And so the match ended 9-21 to Greece, unexpected but fully deserved. Perhaps the rest of Europe will now sit up and take notice that a rugby revolution is taking place on their doorstep.

Coach Doherty summed things up perfectly when he said, “The entire 22 were magnificent today, this is a huge win for us, but the real work starts now. We must see this as only the beginning, build on it, and make sure that we keep things in perspective. There is a long way to go but today we took a huge step forward.”

C. Fiotakis
G. Tsatsaronis
V. Katsakos

A. Mendoros x1
M. Loizou x2

Yellow Cards:
P. Sotiriadis
V. Katsakos
Monaco 7

3 Responses to “Monaco 9 – Greece 21”

  1. 1 ROXXSTAR Feb 25th, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    i came off in the 70th minute for Kostas Tsampaos, who replaced me as prop. i moved from hooker to prop in the 58th minute when Adonis Demertzis was replaced George Gravalas as hooker… just to clarify it.
    good job all round, well done boys…..
    not only to coach – Niall Doherty, congradulations must be made to – assisant/forwards coach- paul…
    thank you..

  2. 2 Goth Feb 28th, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    Well done ROXXSTAR and to everybody for the great win. There is more to come believe me…

  3. 3 fiotakis Mar 7th, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    i ve picked up an injury on the 50th minute of the game…it was kind of stupid to try to finish the game ..Now , i have a calcaneous fracture..i ve been told i need 20 mdays to start running again….
    At least we won….Dominus tecum
    Hellas rugby is rising …and there is no battle won without fatalities…