Romania's rugby revival is timely
ASHBURTON, 3 Sept. - Romanian rugby has pulled itself out of a "black hole" just in time for the Rugby World Cup 2011, according to members of the national team.
The Oaks' most experienced players have revealed the sport went through a dark period which began in 2007.
"Rugby was in a black hole because national federation management didn't want Romanians playing in France," said Cristian Petre, the team's vice-captain. The lock has been playing rugby in the French leagues since 2002 and has 83 caps to his name.
"Romania declined," he said. "Many players hit a plateau because they were not allowed to play for an overseas club. They even made players already in France come back and play in Romania."
With almost a third of their 30-man squad associated with French clubs, Romania have benefited from the knowledge and expertise that comes with international exposure. The team captain, hooker Marius TIncu, and flanker Ovidiu Tonita, play for Perpignan in the French Top 14.
Proof of the importance of competing at this level came in 2007, when the depth of talent in France's top teams helped knock out the All Blacks at the quarter-final stage of the World Cup.
Centre Constantin Gheara, who celebrated his birthday in New Zealand on Friday, says the Oaks' journey to this year's RWC was helped by a change in leadership at the national federation.
"The federation president now tries to place talented Romanian players in the French championships," said Gheara. "But we had to work really hard to make up for lost time."
Petre believes the team's mentality has changed as a result of the challenges they have faced over the years.
"Today, we are a real team, a real family," he said. "Before we used to rely on our forwards. Now that we've all had some experience, we play with more confidence."
Tincu, the team's most dogged front row, believes the Oaks' technical composition has improved across the board. "There's more harmony to our game now," he said. "We've benefited from different strategies and our techniques have evolved. Rugby in Romania has had its highs and lows, but it's all history now."
The Oaks, who have played in every World Cup since 1987, meet Scotland on 10 September in Invercargill in the opening match of Pool B.
- South Africa
- New Zealand