Honours even between Uruguay and Romania
By Frankie Deges
The 20th team for Rugby World Cup 2011 is far from being decided after Uruguay and Romania drew 21-21 in the first leg of their home and away play-off at the Charrúa Stadium in Montevideo on Saturday.
The 10,000 crowd saw an intense game in superb spring weather in which the home team came from behind to snatch a deserved draw. They will all hope that Uruguay can find an extra gear in two week’s time when the teams reconvene at the stadionul National Arcul de Triumf in Bucharest.
Romania controlled the first half but found the warm weather and the Uruguayan spirit hard to control in the last 40 minutes. The Oaks could have won the match in the last minute but wing Catalin Fercu knocked on a ball as he had broken the defensive line.
Uruguay were dealt an early blow with Nicolás Brignoni, the most experienced player in their starting line-up, replaced in the seventh minute. That required an urgent readjustment to the combative pack and it took some time for them to find their rhythm again.
The opening score came in the 17th minute when Uruguay were penalised for not releasing in a tackle. From 40 metres out fly half Dan Dumbrava converted the penalty to silence the loud home crowd.
Seven minutes later Dumbrava kicked his 50th international penalty when the Uruguayan pack failed to roll away. He was quick with his 51st, only two minutes later for offside.
Nine points, though, was a meagre return for a Romanian team that had more control of the ball and kicked better, neither team looking like scoring a try until Uruguay put their foot on the gas.
From a lineout, the ball was spun wide, where left wing Ignacio Mieres appeared on the opposite side of the field from a set move. He passed inside to fellow wing Leandro Leivas, who in the tackle returned the pass to Mieres for the first try which, from a difficult angle, Matías Arocena failed to convert.
The massive Romanian pack did not take the try lightly and after they found field position thanks to a huge kick from full back Florin Vlaicu, they pounded on the Uruguayan try-line. The defensive line held firm for three attacks, but on the fourth drive Romania scored through number 8 Alexandru Manta.
At 14-5 to Romania, the first half showed a better overall performance from the Europeans. The Uruguayans knew that their biggest chances would always be at home and needed to up their performance in the home leg.
They did and within eight minutes they were back in the game with two penalties from Arocena. The Old Christian’s fly half had a career threatening injury at the 2009 IRB Nations Cup and playing his first test in over a year he performed creditably.
Los Teros fight back
Romania’s second try came in a similar fashion to their first, when the forwards found field position after they pinned Uruguay in defence and Lyon prop Bogdan Balan found the smallest of gaps on the blindside to score. From the touchline Dumbrava, one of six Romania-based players, added the conversion to again establish a more comfortable 10-point lead.
Veteran Uruguayan prop Pablo Lemoine was involved soon after coming on as a replacement. He broke from a lineout and Los Teros had continuity thanks to the quick thinking of scrum half Manuel Martínez who, after his forwards were stopped by solid tackling, spun the ball wide.
The Romanian defence still complicated things although the try was eventually scored by wing Leivas in the far corner. Arocena’s very difficult conversion proved to be crucial come the final whistle.
Uruguay had two opportunities to take the lead but were let down by their lineout. Twice they had throw-ins in attacking positions and twice their mistakes were well resolved by the foot of scrum half Lucian Sirbu, relieving pressure with long kicks.
Los Teros knew they needed to take the game to Romania and after another deep attack were given a penalty that with calm assurance Arocena slotted to draw the home side level at 21-21.
With two minutes to go the Romanians needed to secure a good attacking position if they were to take an advantage back home to Bucharest. Instead of going for a drop goal, they opted for a try and came up short.
Rugby World Cup 2011 is now 80 minutes away for either Uruguay or Romania.
POST MATCH REACTION
Uruguay captain Carlos Arboleya: “We will gain confidence from this game as we proved that they are not as strong as we were told they were.
“Now, it is all about the last game and we will be ready. We’ve been working very hard and that will give us the strength to travel to Bucharest. Most of the team have played at their stadium.
“We go in with even chances and it will be about 80 minutes. It will be about do or die.”
Uruguay coach Gonzalo Camardón: “There is a lot to work on and what I am happy about is that we did not show our true potential. We are far from our best and that has to be good for us.”
“It was a game that had a huge emotional weight for Uruguay and now that they’ve taken that and controlled it, we are in a better position.”
Romania coach Romeo Gontineac: “What a great way to decide the last team to qualify: it will all go down to the last game, it could again go down to the last minute. I believe my team can play a lot better and that is heartening.”
Romania assistant coach Steve McDowall: “The weather played a part but the fact is we were not good in the ruck and mauls and our ball presentation and delivery let us down. The breakdown was a key area.
“It took some time for the players we brought back from France to adjust with those in Romania but we now have to weeks to get them to gel.
“Uruguay showed the Romanian team that they are hungry and that is something that has to be a factor.”
Romania captain Sorin Socol: “It is not easy to come so far to play, but we know we will be stronger at home and Uruguay will find it hard. We wanted to win. We made a lot of mistakes and that cost us.
“I had a knock and preferred to have someone fresh come on, and he played much better than me. That is something very positive.”
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