Cup on show as Georgia and Romania face off
The identities of Europe’s two direct qualifiers for Rugby World Cup 2015 are already known but this weekend Georgia and Romania go head-to-head in Tbilisi for the FIRA-AER European Nations Cup 2012-14 crown and in the process will know if they qualify for Rugby’s showpiece tournament as Europe 1 or Europe 2.
So the result is hugely significant for both teams as it will determine who they play in England next year. The match will also be closely watched by fans of other teams in the affected pools with Europe 1 joining New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Africa 1 in Pool C and Europe 2 entering Pool D to face France, Ireland, Italy and Canada.
The iconic Webb Ellis Cup will be present at a sell-out Mikheil Meskhi Stadium in the Georgian capital for the match on March 15 to add a little gold dust to what promises to be an epic contest and one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes on the 2014 Rugby calendar.
Last year in Bucharest, there was nothing between the teams as they played out a 9-9 draw in the Romanian capital so while Georgia will feel that home advantage gives them the slight edge, the Oaks will travel with confidence as they take on their close rivals and a team they know well.
Very little between the teams
On paper as well as on grass, there is precious little between them with the Oaks carrying a slight advantage into the tie. Currently, they sit atop of ENC Division 1A a single bonus point ahead. But, on the hand, Georgia occupy 16th position in the IRB World Rankings, one place ahead of the Romanians.
The third team in Europe – Russia – is still in with a chance of RWC 2015 qualification but must first win Europe’s place in the global repechage and then win that match to make the long and winding route to England.
RWCL Chairman Bernard Lapasset, who attended the recent Georgia v Russia match, which the home team won 36-10 in front of 55,000 supporters in Tbilisi, said: “Although both teams have already qualified, this match is extremely important for both sides. They will both want to make it to England 2015 as the best European qualifier and of course there is the FIRA-AER European Nations Cup title on the line.
“These are the two best sides in the competition but there is little or nothing between them so I am expecting a tough, exciting match in front of a passionate and knowledgeable Georgian crowd. May the better team on the day win but I’ve no doubt that both sides will grace the venues of Rugby World Cup 2015 with aplomb next year.
European Rugby continues to grow
“We have noticed Rugby continuing to go from strength to strength in Europe. Matches like this serve to reinforce that growth as we seek to reach out to more players and fans than ever before.
“This growth is testament to IRB’s commitment to grow the Game beyond its traditional heartlands and the hard work of the Member Unions themselves in conjunction with FIRA-AER.
“Rugby World Cup is the pinnacle of our sport, and through the global qualification process there is a clear pathway and opportunity for every IRB Member Union to play at that level.”