European Championship C, North : Czech Republic 20 Norway 12

A penalty in the final minute, from man of the match Patrick Koliska, ensured that the Czech Republic won the opening match of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup qualifiers, with a narrow 20-12 triumph in the opening fixture of European Championship C – North.

Roared on by a crowd of over 1,000 at the new Municipal Stadium in Vrchlabi – a town with a population of only 13,000 – the hosts overcame a narrow half time deficit to take the spoils.

“It was very hard, Norway played really well and had plenty of chances to score but I was really impressed by our defence on our own try line,” said Czech Republic player/coach Ladislav Cintler. “We have to improve our handling skills before we go to Germany, we made a lot of errors with the ball.”

With committed, ferocious defence to the fore which impacted on handling, it took half an hour for the deadlock to be broken, Chrudim Rabbitohs winger Oldřich Chrbolka scoring in the corner.

Norway dominated possession in the opening period and were rewarded just before the break when scrum half Nathan Cummins cleverly jinked over and converted to give them a narrow 6-4 lead.

Jan Heininger restored the Czech advantage, Koliska goaling and, on the hour, it was Kolinska’s superb pass that released centre Filip-Daniel Kittl who crossed in the corner, Koliska again on target with a teriffic touchline conversion to make it 16-6.

The visitors, led by dangerous custodian Frank Kiriinya, again rallied and eight minutes from time Stavanger Storm prop Ezra McIntyre bulldozed his way over, Cummins adding the extras.

In their over-eagerness for the equalising score, Norway lost their discipline, Koliska kicking a 76th minute penalty and another just before the hooter to secure the win. Lee Johnson chairman of Norge RL noted, “It came down to not completing sets, that’s what cost us. We could not have been better looked after from arriving on Thursday and the crowd was amazing, rugby league has taken hold of this town.nWe’ll go into camp in August to prepare for Germany, there is very little between these nations.”

CZRLA president Lucas Hergott, commented: “It was a great day for Czech rugby league. I am so excited to play in front of such a passionate crowd and was really impressed with the numbers who came. They made a great atmosphere and we want to play for the people, they embraced us and got what they deserved. I am very proud.”

Before kick-off, a minute’s silence was observed for Bulgarian-born CSKA Moscow player Georgi Kocev, who passed away from a suspected heart attack after a training session.