Georgia and Romania set for decisive clash
We look ahead to the crucial FIRA-AER European Nations Cup Division 1A decider, which also determines who qualifies for RWC 2015 as Europe 1 and Europe 2 - watch online live and free here.
When Georgia and Romania take to the field at the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium on Saturday, the teams will be vying for top spot in the FIRA-AER European Nations Cup Division 1A, which brings with it a another golden prize.
Both teams are already safe in the knowledge that their participation at Rugby World Cup 2015 is guaranteed, but both Eastern European rivals are desperate to take away not just the continent's bragging rights, but also the coveted Europe 1 qualifier spot at Rugby World Cup 2015.
The threat posed by Georgia and Romania will not be taken lightly by their RWC 2015 rivals, and both sides can boast a formidable pack capable of rattling any Tier One nation. One only has to look back to the last two Rugby World Cups to see how they have shaken some of Rugby’s traditional powerhouses to the core.
Fine RWC form
At RWC 2007, Italy managed to survive a fierce Romanian onslaught at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille to edge out a 24-18 win. Despite scoring two tries apiece, superior goal kicking from the Azzurri proved the difference. At the same tournament Georgia gave Ireland a massive scare at the Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux. Leading 7-3 at the break, the Lelos were well on course to record their first ever RWC victory, but eventually went down 14-10 to Ireland and a standing ovation from the 33,000-strong crowd.
At RWC 2011, it was Scotland’s turn to feel the full force of Georgia and Romania. With just five minutes of play left at Rugby Park Stadium in Invercargill, the Oaks were holding Scotland to a 24-24 draw for what would have been a major scalp, before wing Simon Danielli crossed the line with two late tries in quick succession to give the Six Nations outfit a 34-24 victory. Four days later Georgia also ran Scotland close at the same venue, eventually going down 15-6 in what turned out to be a kicking contest between Dan Parks and Merab Kvirikashvili.
Both camps optimistic
The undisputed kings of Tier Two rugby in Europe have racked up an unassailable lead at the top of the European Nations Cup Division 1A, and both sides will be confident ahead of Saturday’s decisive clash. We caught up with Romanian hooker Andrei Radoi and Georgian back row Dimitri Basilaia, who were both in good spirits ahead of this weekend’s showdown.
“I’m really happy with our recent performances in the European Nations Cup 2014,” explained Basilaia. “We’ve won all of our matches and the mood in the camp is good. It was disappointing not to get the bonus point against Spain, but we were fully expecting a tough test against the Spanish and going to Madrid is never easy.”
Romania’s Radoi was similarly upbeat about his team’s form going into Saturday’s match: “We’ve recently had a change of coach and he has helped us to improve a lot. Our mentality is stronger now and that is being reflected in our performances – we need to continue in the same direction. Qualifying for RWC 2015 was an incredible feeling and everyone in the squad is delighted. It’s what we all wanted and we’ve worked hard for this.”
Finely balanced tie
The last encounter between the two sides ended in a 9-9 stalemate in Bucharest, and this time round it seems equally hard to predict the outcome.
Radoi said: “There are never favourites when it comes to Romania and Georgia – the level of both teams is incredibly close. Georgia will have over 50,000 fans cheering them on and it will be very tough, but we are going there to win and will give absolutely everything.”
Basilaia added: “I think we could be considered marginal favourites for Saturday’s match. Romania and Georgia are more or less the same type of team but we have had the upper hand against Romania in recent years. We also have the added advantage of playing at home this time and will have a vocal support behind us – that will give us more confidence.”
Georgia and Romania both have strong squads and a host of players who ply their trade in the top flight of French rugby, and Radoi in particular is excited about the potential of Romania’s front row.
“We are fortunate enough to have strength in depth in our squad, but I would highlight our props as a particular area of strength. Paulica Ion of Perpignan and Mihai Lazar of Castres are world-class athletes playing at the highest level, and it’s great to be able to play alongside them for the national team.”
More than 400,000 international fans are expected to travel to England and Cardiff for RWC 2015, and both Radoi and Basilaia are confident that they will receive a good backing at next year’s tournament:
“The next RWC is close to home, so I hope that a good number of our supporters come over,” explained Radoi. “There are also many Romanians here in England already, so I’m fully expecting them to come and cheer us on.”
Despite a much smaller Georgian community in the United Kingdom, Basilaia is also expecting his countrymen to travel in numbers.
“We saw how many people attended our home match against Russia, which is very encouraging not just for the Lelos but also for Tier Two rugby in general. I know that the Georgian public will back us at RWC 2015 and many of them will make the journey over to England.”
Watch live online!
The match between Georgia and Romania in Tbilisi this Saturday will be streamed live and free here.
Victory on Saturday will assure either side a place in Pool C as Europe 1 alongside defending champions New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and the African qualifier. The loser will qualify as Europe 2 and face France, Ireland, Italy and Canada in Pool D.