The island of Rhodes has more than its fair share of Greek history and last weekend its rugby team, the Colossi, made its own contribution when it became the first Greek team ever to defeat Athens Rugby Club.
The reigning Greek champions entertained Colossi in a titanic battle in Athens before the visitors ran out deserved 22-10 victors in the second round of this season’s league competition.
The kick off was delayed for half an hour after the referee had insisted on post padding and a remarking of the pitch for safety reasons, but the pitch was not to be a safe place for the faint-hearted as these teams came together.
A confident Athens side probably had the better of the early exchanges but it was the visitors who had the first scoring opportunity.
They spurned the chance of three points from a kickable penalty in favour of a scrum, but Athens survived that threat when Rhodes were penalized.
Things boiled up after 20 minutes when Colossi’s Byron Hutchinson was tackled into touch 10 metres out from the Athens line and a general free-for-all occurred, leading to the referee giving both captains a stern warning.
Five minutes before half time Athens took the lead with a simple penalty but they dropped the ball from the restart, it was collected by Vasilis Bakiris for Rhodes and he delivered the perfect pass to Ruaridh Thomson who scored in the corner, Gio Puckorius adding the touchline conversion to give Rhodes a 7-3 interval lead.
Six minutes into the second half, with Colossi skipper Anestis Karageorgiou off the field with a cut head, Athens mounted serious pressure on the Rhodes line, John Tsogas finally getting the score , which was converted to put them 10-7 ahead.
Atehns continued to press but theior own indiscipline often let Rhodes off the hook as Athens conceded needless penalties and often being marched a further 10 metres for backchat.
It took Colossi 20 minutes to get back into the game when Puckorius landed a penalty to level the scores..
Two minutes later a short throw-in saw Chris Panagiotopoulos stopped just short of the Athens line but Rhodes won another penalty, which was quickly moved to Hutchinson and the full back was driven over the line by his forwards for a try.
Puckorius missed this kick and another penalty five minutes later so there was still all to play for and Athens reminded their visitors that they were not giving up their incredible unbeaten record easily as they returned to pounding the Colossi line.
Twice in two minutes they had the line at their mercy, only for a forward pass and then a knock-on to rob them of almost certain tries.
Finally, at the end of normal time, a crunching tackle from Pantelis Arfaras saw the ball fly loose to be seized by Hutchinson.
He chipped over the Athens defence, who failed to deal with the kick and allowed Hutchinson to calmly gather the ball and stroll over for his second try of the game, Puckorius finding his range again to make it 22-10.
As the game went into injury time the Athens skipper was shown a yellow card for questioning the referee once too often, but Rhodes were content to see out the rest of the game for this historic victory.
It was the end of an era for Greek rugby with this first ever defeat for Athens but, as Rhodes player-coach Anestis Karageorgiou said later, “This result doesn’t mean Athens have become a poor side overnight. It is just that other teams are getting better – and this can only be a good thing for Greek rugby.
“ My side were all heroes today in the toughest game many of them have ever played and this result is a massive step forward for rugby on the island. I hope we can continue to improve as this season progresses.”
“It is always nice to have a win, but I must say, I was happier with the way the boys did it. They are showing signs of maturity. It is a credit to their application, concentration and discipline at training and on the pitch.
”We had quite a few injuries from the previous week and a number of other mishaps so the team was rejigged as of necessity. Despite playing a number of fellows out of position, each player stood up and was counted.
“That the commitment is there is expected as a minimum. The ability to execute the added demands of playing out of position shows a ripening of skills.
What really pleased me however was the way we stuck to a game plan, despite a disruptive match and lengthy delay to kick off. We insisted on our strategy and had the patience and faith to persist.
“On top of that, each individual recognised the importance of this by themselves. That is a little more than I expected. It shows there is some belief in this team, that is certainly a good thing.
Still, you are only as good as your last performance. We are looking as far as the Spartans in two weeks time.