Malta Marauders drew on all their years of experience to put an end to Gladiators 18 – month unbeaten run with with a fine display of intelligent running rugby. Last year’s unbeaten champions ultimately had no answer to Marauders combination of scrummaging power, committed defence, and clever interplay between forwards and backs in the shock upset of the day at Marsa
The game started slowly, with both teams testing each others defences, and neither side gaining the upper hand in the first quarter. The game changed after a lengthy stoppage when Brian Dalton took a nasty knock to the head. From the restart, Marauders drove deep into Gladiators territory following up a nicely weighted kick from Dan Moore, which resulted in a line out in a good attacking position. Steve Busuttil set off on the drive, and A.J. Thompson carried on the move to pressure the line. The ball went to Moore who slipped it inside to Patrice Debiere. He found Will Ferrand – Thomas on his outside and the big man dived over to open the scoring.
Marauder doubled their score when, after a succession of three penalties against Gladiators, Ferrand-Thomas took the ball on the charge before passing to Moore. He shipped it out to Greg Van Reeven lurking on the wing, who finished the move with a diving score.
This put Marauders 10 points up at half-time, and there was a sense that they were winning the war of attrition and had the game under control, particularly in the line-out where Stoff Diamantino’s return to the team after a lengthy absence gave extra jumping options. However, Gladiators hit back with an opportunistic try against the run of play, when the ball squirted out of the back of a scrum. The Gladiators attacking line came up suspiciously quickly and,with the Marauders defence all waiting for an offside whistle, that failed to materialize, the Gladiators centre pounced on the ball and scored unchallenged.
Marauders soon restored the 10 point gap when they set up a driving maul from a line-out on the right. The ball was fed back to Dalton, who whipped it out to Sean Duffy. He cut inside before releasing the ball to Chris Briffa, who charged down the right to score. Briffa featured again almost immediately, when, from the kick-off, he decided to run a ball that failed to go the 10 metres, catching the Gladiators napping. After a 40-metre run, he was finally pulled down short of the line, but the Gladiators clearance failed to find touch, and was gathered brilliantly by Joe Rafferty. He swung the ball out wide to find Debiere on the left wing, who used his devastating speed to great effect, evading two tackles and avoiding the left touchline to score a great individual try. This killed off any hope of a Gladiators revival, and Marauders went on to close out the game and take a justly deserved win.