RWC 2015 Spotlight - Romania

RWC 2015 Spotlight - Romania
Romeo Gontineac played at four Rugby World Cups for Romania and then coached his country in 2011


By qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2015, Romania’s proud ever-present record at the tournament is maintained. 

And the Oaks have been nothing if not consistent in their performances throughout the history of the competition, a place in the knockout stages proving beyond them ever since they were first invited to the inaugural event back in 1987. On only two occasions, though, have Romania finished bottom of their pool – at RWC 1995 and RWC 2011, when they failed to win a single match.

Victories by a one-point and two-point margin on a 1982 tour of Zimbabwe suggested Romania’s first-ever Rugby World Cup fixture against Africa’s sole representative at Eden Park would be a close run thing, and so it proved. 

Zimbabwe led 11-3 at half-time and 20-9 well into the second half until Romania, inspired by scrum half and captain Mircea Paraschiv, turned the match on its head with three late tries to win 21-20.

Romania’s experienced squad had prepared for RWC 1987 at a commando-style training camp in the mountains, and an uphill task awaited them in their next fixture. After holding the much-fancied French to 12-12 at half-time, the Oaks succumbed to a second-half onslaught and were beaten 55-12. A measure of pride was restored, though, in the next match against Scotland: a 55-28 defeat in Dunedin.

RWC 1991 presented Romania arguably with their best chance – then and since, to make the quarter-finals. While France were expected to stroll through a relatively weak-looking pool – and did – Romania, Canada and a Fijian side in decline all looked to have equal claims on the runner-up spot.

After losing 30-3 to France, Romania faced Canada in Toulouse knowing that a win would put them in pole position to qualify for the knockout stages. Following a tight first half the match came to life after the break, each side scoring two tries apiece. 

Ultimately, though, it was the place-kicking of Mark Wyatt and Gareth Rees’ drop goal that proved the difference as the Canucks won 19-11. Romania at least ended their stay in France on a high with a 17-15 victory in their first-ever competitive fixture against Fiji.

While the Rugby World Cup 1991 draw had been favourable, the same cannot be said for the one handed to Romania four years down the line in South Africa. The Oaks were paired against reigning champions Australia, the Springboks and a Canadian side who were threatening the old order with impressive victories against the likes of France and Wales in the wake of their first-ever Rugby World Cup quarter-final appearance. 

Predictably, Romania lost all three, although they did give the Springboks a scare until two pushover tries earned the host nation a hard-fought, 21-8 win.

Romania’s RWC 1999 campaign got off to a terrible start against Australia, Tim Horan racing over the Oaks’ line with just 92 seconds on the clock. The Wallabies went on to score eight more tries in a 57-9 rout at Ravenhill. 

Having swapped Northern Ireland for the south, Romania overturned a 12-point half-time deficit to edge out USA 27-25 in Dublin. However it took Kevin Dalzell’s missed conversion to ensure the Oaks claimed a first Rugby World Cup win in eight years. A 44-14 defeat to Ireland concluded Romania’s campaign.

A record 90-8 defeat to hosts Australia and heavy losses to Argentina and Ireland rather marred Romania’s involvement in RWC 2003, although they ended on a winning note after scoring five tries – four of them coming before the break – to beat Namibia 37-7 in the first-ever Test match to be played in Tasmania. 

While the match itself may not linger long in the memory, the historic occasion in Launceston attracted a full house of 15,000 spectators, who were all encouraged to adopt either one of the teams based on whether they were born in an odd or even year.

Romania were the last of the 20 nations to take to the field in RWC 2007, and their opening match against Italy was very nearly worth the wait as the Oaks pushed the Italians all the way before falling to a 24-18 defeat. 

Then, just as John Jeffrey had done 20 years earlier, a Scottish flanker scored a hat-trick of tries against them. This time it was Ali Hogg who inflicted the damage, his treble helping the Scots to a 42-0 win at Murrayfield. 

Victory over Portugal (14-10) followed before Romania finished with an 85-8 defeat by New Zealand, their talisman hooker Marius Tincu having the satisfaction of scoring his third try of the tournament against the All Blacks.

Tincu wore the captain’s armband at RWC 2011, a play-off victory against Uruguay having ensured Romania’s presence in New Zealand. Romania faced a now familiar Rugby World Cup foe in the form of Scotland in their opening match in Invercargill. 

There was no hat-trick scorer for Scotland this time around, just a two-try hero in the form of wing Simon Danielli who struck in the 75th and 78th minutes to see Scotland secure a tense 34-24 victory. 

Heavy defeats to Argentina (43-8) and England (67-3) followed before Romania signed off with a disappointing 25-9 loss to European Nations Cup Division 1A rivals Georgia. 

RWC 2011 head coach Romeo Gontineac played at centre in the 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007 editions and holds his country’s all-time appearance record (14) for the tournament.

The 17-15 win over Fiji in Brive at Rugby World Cup 1991. The red-shirted Romanians outscored their Pacific Island opponents three tries to nil, number 8 Hari Dumitras getting the pick of the bunch when he bulldozed his way through three would-be tacklers en route to the try-line. Romania’s defence was so solid that the normally free-scoring Fijians had to rely on three monster drop goals and two penalties for all their points. 

Elton Flatley’s try after 18 seconds – the fastest in Rugby World Cup history – set the tone for a terribly one-sided RWC 2003 showdown with Australia. The Wallabies went on to score 13 tries in total and win 90-8, Romania’s only consolation being the fact that the host nation set a new record score against Namibia a week later.

"I'm very proud about being Romanian today. We believed we could win today. It was just eight minutes from a very good win in the World Cup." – Romania head coach Romeo Gontineac reflects on the RWC 2011 near-miss against Scotland.

What do The Oaks have in common with Australia, Canada, Fiji, New Zealand, USA and Wales? They all won their first Rugby World Cup match. In Romania’s case, they opened their account with a hard-fought win over Zimbabwe.