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Romania coach Lynn Howells calls for Six Nations format rethink

Romania coach Lynn Howells has called for a two-tier Six Nations with promotion and relegation to help rugby realise its potential in Europe.

Former Wales assistant coach Howells believes future World Cups would benefit from allowing so-called minnows regular top-level Test matches.

Romania will face Ireland at Wembley on Sunday, pressed into service again just four days after losing out 38-11 to France at London's Olympic Stadium.

The Five Nations became six when Italy joined in 2000, but the Azzurri have suffered the Wooden Spoon for finishing last in 10 of their 16 campaigns.

"To play in the Six Nations would be something teams like Romania dream about," said Howells, ahead of Sunday's first meeting with Ireland since 2005.

"The sad part would be losing teams from the top level of the tournament. And then the way back for them would be difficult.

"We have to be able to perform and show people we can perform at this level.

"It gives us that opportunity, whereas before we haven't had that chance."

Italy have played 80 Six Nations matches since their 2000 inclusion in Europe's premier rugby contest - winning just 12, drawing one and losing 67.

The likes of Romania and Georgia compete for the second-tier European Nations Cup, but now Howells believes the lower-ranked sides ought to be handed the chance to win promotion to the top level.

Italy and most likely Scotland too would be hugely opposed to a promotion and relegation system across the Six Nations, but Howells is adamant it is the best way to grow the game across the continent.

"If we put in another big performance against Ireland, in a similar way to what we did against France, then people will hopefully be talking again," said Howells.

"New Zealand coach Steve Hansen thinks the gap is closing between the top nations and the tier-two sides, and obviously Japan showed in beating South Africa that maybe things are changing.

"I think the Six Nations would be a better competition with relegation and promotion."

Romania's rugged and technically-sound pack of forwards mostly ply their trade in France's unforgiving Top 14.

The man charged with steering that eight around the park will be Michael Wiringi, a New Zealander who swapped his Hawera home for Romanian club Baia Mare four years ago.

Wiringi will win just his second cap against Ireland, having plied his trade previously with Eltham-Kaponga - a second-tier club in Taranaki that equates to New Zealand's fourth tier.

From club rugby on the Ukraine border to the home of English football, Wiringi is intent on coping with the huge hike in standard.

"It hasn't kicked in yet but I'm pretty sure it will when the stadium starts to fill," said the 30-year-old fly-half.

"The club was looking for a 10, I put some clips together, then after some time they said they wanted me on a flight asap.

"It was a huge culture shock. I never really travelled before either but I was pretty open-minded.

"This is not what I expected when I first left New Zealand but I'm extremely humbled by this experience.

"I had to pick up the language pretty quickly because it's such a small place and not many people speak English."


From Belfast Telegraph