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Oaks simply keen to keep the scoreline down

By Michael Sadlier

Published 26/09/2015

Key man: Romania’s full-back Catalin Fercu plays for Sarries
Key man: Romania’s full-back Catalin Fercu plays for Sarries

There has been a lot of talk of how things are changing for the so-called lesser nations and just how much is invested in lifting all boats outside the game's upper tier.

It's the same every World Cup and yet results like Japan's toppling of South Africa are marvellous yet, realistically, they are consigned to the flash-in-the-pan category of results.

For Romania - coached by much-travelled Welshman Lynn Howells and with the even more-travelled former Ulster defence coach Neil Kelly on board - things are particularly painful as the Oaks have been around for decades without having much to show for it in the wake of coming on the scene during the grim days of Communism.

Back then, they did play front-line nations with their occasional tours highlighting more the gap in living standards between Eastern and Western Europe rather than what Romania achieved on the field.

Though things have greatly improved, the Romanians haven't been able to kick on to share a place at the game's top table. In fact, Georgia have risen to eclipse their rivals in the European Nations Cup as the primary second-tier rugby country on the continent.

Romania's best players are to be found in France, with full-back Catalin Fercu earning his crust in the Premiership with Saracens.

As a tier-two nation they know what's coming. Four-day turnarounds are pretty much the norm thanks to the scheduling structure which prioritises the big teams getting maximum TV exposure.

Hence, after their brave efforts at taking on France - they ultimately leaked five tries and lost 38-11 - the Oaks now have to gather themselves to face Ireland tomorrow.

Romania, though, are realistic enough not to expect too much joy from playing France and Ireland in close proximity.

Their gaze has fallen on coming away from this World Cup with two wins and they have targeted Canada and Italy as achievable victories.

Win both and they gain their ultimate prize from this, their eighth World Cup, namely automatic qualification for the next battle for the Webb Ellis trophy in Japan in 2019.

And it's fair to say that Romania do have decent players with skipper Mihai Macovei, who plays at Colomiers, Valentin Ursache - who scored against France - a fellow powerful back-rower based at Oyannax while their best pick at front row of Mihaita Lazar, Otar Turashvili and Paulica Ion - only Ion starts tomorrow - are also based in France.

So, two wins? It will take everything. In the meantime, it's all about keeping the scoreline down against Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph

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