European qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2015 got off to an electrifying start as Hungary defeated Bulgaria 28-23 in Kecskemét to open their European Nations Cup account in style in front of a record crowd for a Rugby match in the country.
The Hungarians kept their hopes of topping the ENC Division 2C standings and progressing to the next phase of qualifying alive with an excellent display of pace, power and execution, running in three tries in front of more than 3,000 vociferous fans, who were excited to see the Webb Ellis Cup and Rugby World Cup 2003 winner Lawrence Dallaglio up close and personal.
The match was also the culmination of a successful trophy tour that began at Rugby School in England with Will Greenwood, visited the grave of William Webb Ellis in Menton, France, with Jonny Wilkinson before heading east for Hungary with Dallaglio.
Although hosted in England, Rugby World Cup 2015 is an event which all of Europe will be involved in with the majority of the 400,000 anticipated travelling supporters expected to hail from the region.
The match opened in frenetic style, but it was Hungary who struck the early psychological blow, racing into a 5-0 lead through the strong running of centre Achilles Gyurcsik.
Bulgaria pulled back three points through the boot of Aleks Minchev, but Hungary were in the ascendancy thanks to their effective offloading game and clinical lineout and the home side extended their lead to 12-3 after busy flanker Mate Toth crossed between the posts for a score that was converted.
Minchev cut the deficit with another penalty, and while Hungary were controlling the match, a mistake near their own line handed Bulgaria the opportunity and full back Petar Nikolov cut through the defence to score his side's opening try in the 30th minute. The conversion nudged the visitors ahead 12-13, but it was to be a short-lived advantage as Hungary fly half Gareth Lloyd responded with a long-range drop goal to make it 15-13.
The match had turned again as Minchev edged the Bulgarians back in front with a perfectly struck penalty, but Hungary ensured the lead was brief as flanker Attilia Refi showed great finishing skills to score the home side's third try. Szabolcs Nagyhegyesi's conversion gave Hungary a deserved 22-16 lead at half time.
The match continued to ebb after the break with Bulgaria first to break the deadlock through wing Ivailo Ivanov. Nikolov's conversion regained the lead again and suddenly it was Bulgaria calling the shots as Hungary struggled to convert opportunities with the boot into points.
Hungary had missed seven shots at goal, but full back Nagyhegyesi's 72nd-minute penalty put the home side in front once again and the match was in the balance at 25-23. Bulgaria were denied a try in the corner, which seemed to galvanise the Hungarians and the match was sealed through the boot of Nagyhegyesi in the 77th minute after a long-range break earned a penalty close to the line to make the final score 28-23.
There is little doubt about the significance of the event for a developing Rugby nation. There are currently 3,000 men, women and children playing the Game in Hungary, but the Union has grand ambitions, and with the support of FIRA-AER, IRB and the Hungarian Government, plans are in place to grow and develop the sport.
Hungary Rugby Union President Pal Turi said: "We are proud of what we have achieved today on and off the field. The Rugby World Cup has given us the opportunity to put Rugby in the spotlight in this country and we intend to keep it there. Our journey continues and we dream that one day we will be competing for the Webb Ellis Cup on Rugby's greatest stage."
Hungary: Tries: Achilles (4 mins), Toth (20 mins), Refi (40 mins); Conversions: Nagyhegyesi (20 mins, 40 mins); Penalties: Nagyhegyesi (72 mins, 77 mins) Drop Goal: Lloyd (32 mins)
Bulgaria: Tries: Nikolov (30 mins), Ivanov (46 mins); Conversions: Nikolov (30 mins, 46 mins); Penalties: Minchev (13 mins, 24 mins, 39 mins)