Croatia rugby team’s Makarska return special for coach Anthony Poša
- by croatiaweek
- in Sport
After almost 11 long years, the Croatian national rugby team finally returns to the Dalmatian town of Makarska this weekend.
Croatia, fresh off a miraculous last-second upset win over Lithuania, will face European Trophy Division leaders Switzerland on Saturday at the City Stadium in Makarska.
“I am proud that the national team is back in Makarska after almost 11 years. Some of the best matches in the history of Croatia were played in Makarska, and I get goosebumps when I remember those clashes,” said the president of the Makarska Riviera Rugby Club, Jakša Lovreta.
Makarska was considered the home of Croatian rugby during the golden era of the sport back in the 1990s. In 1998, the picturesque coastal town played host to the biggest game played on Croatian soil when Croatia played Italy in a World Cup qualifier.
One man who played in that game, and is looking forward to returning to Makarska is current national team coach Anthony Poša.
Poša, a second-generation ‘Croatian-Kiwi’, has some special memories of Makarska from his playing days for Croatia and the Makarska Riviera rugby club.
Poša spent three and a half years playing for the Makarska Riviera rugby club in the mid-1990s, winning the Croatian Club Championship, the Cup, and the European Regional Cup, which was unheard of for such a small club at the time.
“A little selfishly, I’m over the moon that this game is in Makarska. The game of rugby has suffered a little there since I had the privilege of playing for them in that super successful era of the late 90s. I hope this game will boost the sport there again, and I know they have put in a lot of great work there in growing the game with their kids recently, and they now have numerous quite strong age-grade teams throughout the club,” Poša told us before adding.
“I’m told it’s been 25 years since we had that magical season where Makarska won everything—the Croatian Club Championship, the Cup, and the European Regional Cup. I am led to believe there is some sort of reunion planned, and they are trying to make a documentary about those achievements. That was also the year our national team played Italy in Makarska in front of 10,000 fans in a World Cup qualifier. Special times.”
Poša, who has family heritage from Pupnat on the island of Korčula, and Vrgorac, left Makarska in 2000 to continue his rugby career in the UK, is hoping the crowd will come out again this weekend to support his side.
“The crowds (in Makarska) were fantastic! It was like a party atmosphere every time we played. Lifelong friends were made as well. If I had to choose one memory, it would probably be winning the cup in Zagreb and coming back on the bus to Makarska around midnight to an almost impromptu parade along the Riva. One of the young players was on top of the moving bus with the cup aloft—crazy!” Poša recalls before adding.
“I hope the crowds come out. It’s been such a long time since the last game, so who knows? If the weather stays nice, of course, that will help. I know the Makarska club has really tried to promote the game as best they can, which is very much appreciated.”
What makes Makarska so special for a player?
“What was there not to like?! Coming from New Zealand to the land where your grandparents were born not only had that nostalgic feeling to it, but it’s so beautiful as well. The weather, the great people, and those summer months! Add to that playing a sport you love and then representing the country of your family’s origin whilst travelling around the world for matches and tours, I can honestly say it was the best time of my life,” he says.
With time up on the clock and trailing Lithuania by one point, Croatia was awarded a penalty. Half-back Jason Newton calmly stepped up to send it down the middle to give the visitors a thrilling 39-37 victory in Šiauliai.
After some great memories and achievements as a player in Makarska, Poša has the opportunity to create some more as a coach this weekend.
Croatia head into this weekend’s clash against Switzerland as big underdogs, but their confidence got a massive boost last weekend when they picked up their first ever Trophy Division victory with a thrilling 39-37 victory over Lithuania in Šiauliai.
“Look, Switzerland, with their experience at this level and the quality of players they have, especially those that play in France, are unbeaten and top of our group for a reason and are huge favourites. I told our boys after last week’s heroics that we still can and need to be better, and if we do that, who knows? But we’ve already exceeded expectations, now it’s about us fighting and competing for every little thing in Saturday’s game, and if we do that, let’s see what happens…” Poša concluded.
Croatia v Switzerland
Saturday, 1 April 2023 16:00, 16:00:00 (Local)
City stadium Makarska – Makarska
The match will be broadcast live on the Rugby Europe website here.