By Jon Newcombe
Host nation Romania will be bidding to make it a hat-trick of IRB Nations Cup wins over Uruguay when the two sides meet in the first round of matches at the Stadionul National Arcul de Triumf in Bucharest on Friday.
There has been little to separate the sides in their two previous encounters, with Romania winning 10-6 in 2008 and 17-11 a year later.
Both nations recently achieved second place finishes in their respective continental competitions and, judging by the latest IRB World Rankings, remain well matched, with Romania ranked at 18, one place above los Teros.
As a full test match and with ranking points at stake, Romania will be desperate to make home advantage count. However the IRB Nations Cup is also being widely viewed by the teams as an important stepping stone towards the Rugby World Cup 2015.
Looking to the future
Qualifying for that massive showpiece in England begins next spring and all six teams in Bucharest are blooding several newcomers at this level.
Key to Romania’s long term development is finding a fly half who can get a largely redundant back line moving and, as the only out-and-out number 10 named in Lynn Howells’ squad, Dorin Manole therefore has a rare opportunity to cement his place in the side, especially with 30-year-old Danut Dumbrava not included in the squad.
Meanwhile, For Mihai Macovei the tournament opener represents a very special first. In March he captained Romania, standing in for Cristian Petre when the latter was injured during a warm-up, but now is set to lead from the front, right from the start.
“I am delighted to lead the team on the opening day of the IRB Nations Cup. I hope to contribute to a good team performance to try to keep the trophy in the country for the first time. I wish my fellow captains from the other five nations a good tournament and may the best team win,” he said.
Emphasis on youth
One of those captains, Argentine Jaguar Santiago Gonzales Iglesias, was equally enthused by the youthful blend of his side: “About 10 of the players who turned up for the Pampas side in the Vodacom tournament in South Africa, as well as nine of the newly-capped Pumas who played in the South American Championship in Santiago last month are here.
“This is good news to have such a young and talented side and we expect to have a good tournament with very tough games.”
Romania’s backs and defence coach Neil Kelly says that they intend to play a more expansive game than was evident in New Zealand at Rugby World Cup 2011, starting with this tournament on home soil.
“By its very nature Eastern European rugby has always been very forwards-orientated, but the Rugby World Cup showed that only gets you so far,” he said.
“We’re on the four-year cycle to RWC 2015 and we want to develop some backs that can complement the forwards. The forwards need to be able to trust the backs to hang onto the ball and do the right thing at the right time.
“It’s going to be a bit of a challenge but I am sure we can do it.”
Triple bill of Rugby action
In a triple bill of rugby, the Romanians kick off proceedings against Uruguay. Russia then play Emerging Italy in the second match of the opening round, while Portugal conclude what should be a fascinating day with a match against Argentina Jaguars.
“Portugal are very happy to be here as the first IRB Nations Cup was held in Portugal seven years ago,” said Portugal captain, Vasco Uva, a veteran of the 2007 Rugby World Cup in 2007.
“The majority of our side is made up of amateur players and many are quite new at this level and this is a great opportunity for us to train and work together as a team for two weeks.
“Last year we won only one game against the Jaguars. This year we will try to get one better, and maybe win two matches. Our goal is to improve and to be part of the next World Cup.”