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LEICESTER, 6 Oct – Stick to the gameplan and “pull your socks up” was coach Lynn Howells’ message to Romania before they staged the biggest comeback in Rugby World Cup history.
The Oaks rallied from 15-0 down after 52 minutes to triumph 17-15 against Canada at Leicester City Stadium on Tuesday, a deficit no team had ever overcome at a RWC.
The incredible victory, sparked by two tries from captain Mihai Macovei (pictured above) and a dramatic late penalty from Florin Vlaicu, keeps alive Howells’ dream of securing automatic qualification for the RWC 2019, while sending Canada home winless.
Romania can book their place in Japan with a win against Italy in their final Pool D match on Sunday, although the Far East could hardly have felt further away when trailing 8-0 at half-time.
“Pull your socks up,” Howells said when asked what was said at the interval.
“We came in with a gameplan, we knew what we had to do against Canada. We had to stop the quick ball and I think we became more effective at that in the second half.
“Also, I think Canada made more mistakes and it allowed us to get the scrum game going, the driving game going. That really changed the game.”
Kieran Crowley’s men had been the better side in the first half, underlined when DTH Van Der Merwe powered over to become the first player from a tier-two nation to score a try in four successive RWC matches.
But handling errors, 11 points missed out on from the kicking tee and failure to score when playing against 14, would come back to haunt them after Jeff Hassler’s converted try stretched the lead to 15.
Romania’s dominant pack provided the platform for the fightback as Macovei touched down on 53 minutes following a perfectly executed rolling maul from a lineout.
The captain went over again six minutes from time, peeling off another unstoppable drive before Vlaicu added the conversion to close the gap to a single point.
Canada endured the final eight minutes with 14 men after Jebb Sinclair was penalised for unfairly halting one of countless Romania drives.
And the outcome was in little doubt when Vlaicu was given the opportunity to cap the comeback, 45 metres from goal in the 78th minute, from the fifth penalty Canada conceded at the scrum.
Howells added: “We said that if we stayed within 14 points going into the last 20 minutes, we knew we would have a chance to start to play the way we wanted to play.
“I think you saw that. Canada’s wide game started to fall apart in the last 20 (minutes) and it gave us an opportunity to play the way Romania wanted to play and we knew that would happen so, no, I never gave up.”
Canada had given a good account of themselves in their opening three matches, despite losing to Ireland, Italy and France, but head home without a win.
“We talked about what we wanted to do at half-time. It must have been a terrible speech," coach Crowley said.
“The big thing we talked about the game was that we knew their strength and their driving maul. We were just not good enough in the final plays.
“If you take out the last 35 minutes of this game it has probably been a pretty good World Cup for us.”