BLACKSMITHS: Team Kalve played an exciting style of rugby to win the title.
RIGA - Whilst most of the rugby world was tuned in to what was happening in New Zealand over the weekend, there was still the little matter of the Latvian Championship to be decided closer to home. Oct. 15 signaled the first semifinal at the Rugby World Cup in Auckland, New Zealand as Wales took on France for a chance to fight it out in the sport’s showcase event. With the game taking place on Saturday morning Latvian time, it offered the opportunity for players from the Riga clubs Ezi (Hedgehogs) and Kalve (Blacksmiths) to gain some inspiration ahead of their impending battle to be crowned Latvian champions later in the day.
However, if they were watching the Wales – France game, they certainly did not take anything onboard, with the two games being played in severely contrasting style. While the professionals would fight out a drab affair watched by millions that would end in a one point victory for France, Ezi and Kalve played a free-flowing, exciting style of rugby, providing a far better spectacle for the 1,000 or so fans who had braved cool conditions to watch the final at Latvia University Stadium.
Coming into the game as defending champions, Ezi knew they would have their work cut out for them against a team culminated from two of Latvia’s oldest rugby clubs – Ovals and Remus.
Kalve has shown themselves to be the team to beat throughout the season, relying on a deep roster to go through the 14-game regular season undefeated, qualifying directly for the semifinals.
Once there, they would show the gaping hole between Latvia’s top three teams and the chasing bunch, defeating Livonia/Garkalne 71-0 to cruise into their first final as a club.
The other semifinal would provide more of a test, but Ezi – whose only losses during the regular season had come at the hands of Kalve – would be able to beat Miesnieki, 29-12, to join Kalve in the final showdown.
In the final, Kalve asserted their dominance early by camping out inside the Ezi half. It would come as a surprise then to see Ezi open scoring with their impressive winger Kristaps Berzins intercepting the ball, sprinting 70 meters down field to score under the posts before stepping up to convert his own try and put the Hedgehogs up 7-0.
Kalve wasted little time in bouncing straight back, however, with Elmars Imbrass and Andrejs Borisovs both rumbling over close to the line. With Mihail Tumins converting both tries, Kalve were in front 14-7. To give themselves some more breathing space before halftime, Vitalijs Haleckis would slot a drop goal from in front, seeing Kalve leading 17-7 at the break.
Ezi threatened to come back early in the second half when halfback Raimonds Krumins would take advantage of some soft defense to dart over the line from the back of the scrum, but their good work would be undone immediately as they knocked on from the restart to gift Kalve an attacking scrum. After their forwards crashed the ball up-field, Kalve spun the ball wide with center Matiss Zalcmanis darting over for the try. With Tumins once more adding the extras the lead was out to 14 points.
Tempers then began to flare and with two Ezi players being given their marching orders following a fight, Kalve had one hand firmly on the trophy.
With two extra players on the field, Kalve began giving the ball more width and young talent Nauris Berzins spotted a half gap, sprinting nearly 50 meters to score his team’s fourth try.
Ezi would grab a consolation try when reserve Elvis Silins ran onto a well placed kick before winning a footrace to the line, but the final say would be with impressive Kalve first-five Haleckis, who was deserved of the final try of the day following another assault on the Ezi line with time running out, giving his team a relatively comfortable 36-19 win.
“I am really happy with the win,” said Kalve’s standout flanker Santis Podans to TBT following the game, adding, “we played very carefully to avoid unnecessary errors and in the first half we executed everything that we had been doing in training. In the second half our opponents had pulled up their socks and we were not ready. But we soon pulled ourselves back together and returned to playing our game.”
Whilst the final draws a curtain on domestic action, a number of the players involved in Saturday’s game will be back in action on Oct. 29 when Latvia play Malta at Daugava Stadium.