Chris Thau reports from Bucharest
Hosts Romania, Emerging Italy and the Argentina Jaguars all scored opening wins on the first day of the IRB Nations Cup 2012.
Hosts Romania overcame Uruguay 29-9 in the opening match at the National 'Arcul de Triumf' Stadium in Bucharest, a young Emerging Italy side then scored a fine victory against Russia before the Argentine Jaguars soared to a convincing win against Portugal.
Match 1: Romania 29-9 Uruguay
Hosts Romania beat Uruguay 29-9 in a physical opening match of the seventh IRB Nations Cup.
Aside from the attendance of the new Romanian Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, the most remarkable event in an otherwise forgettable match was the debut for Romania of Georgian-born hooker, Otar Turashvili.
Turashvili is playing for the Timisoara University in the South West of the country and is said to be thrilled to pull on the yellow jersey of Romania, for whom he is qualified to play through residency.
Former captain Cristian Petre, who today won his 91st cap, added that Turashvili was a valued member of the team and that a 'welcoming' party was in the offing, probably tonight.
On the field, with both teams battling to overcome the intense heat, the hosts managed to dispatch a tenacious yet somewhat limited Uruguay 29-9, showing glimpses of class only in the final stages of a dour contest.
Two tries in the final quarter by the two talented Romanian wings, Madalin Lemnaru and Catalin Fercu, the latter making a return to international action after a long break, injected some excitement into what had proved a modest arm-wrestle.
The match was always likely to be a muscular contest and the South American front row - Coral, skipper Klapenbach and Sagario shared 57 caps between them - had been expected to dominate. In fact, the Romanian front row of Andrei Ursache, Andrei Radoi and Mihai Adascalitei performed home town heroics to contain their visitors and even gain the upper hand.
In the end, however, it was defensive errors that doomed los Teros. Exhausted by the relentless physicality of the enormous Romanian pack, they let slip the two speedsters for two valuable late tries.
Uruguay coach, Pablo Lemoine: "We are not used to playing against a pack of this size, their pack was much bigger than ours and in the end that made the diference. Our defence worked well early on but then we lost our shape and we started making mistakes. If we do not respect our game plan, we are going to suffer, especially with our players getting involved in one to one clashes with their opponents. The Russians are also very big, and we must adapt and be prepared to handle them."
Romanian debutant, Georgian-born prop Otar Turashvili: "I never thought in my life that I would play rugby for Romania but this is life and this was a great opportunity for me. I was delighted to be selected and I am very happy that we started with a win. I was well received by the boys and I have been accepted as a one of them.
Cristian Petre, Romania: "This is a young team and I am delighted that we won. We trained hard and prepared carefully. It worked a treat, according to the plan. In the first half we roasted their forwards and in the second half our backs did the talking. This is a good start and we will keep improving."
Match 2: Russia 17-33 Emerging Italy
The second match of the tournament managed to restore the faith of the Bucharest fans in the virtues of running rugby. The match was as dramatic as it was spectacular with the favourites Russia being emphatically beaten by a young Emerging Italy side positively bursting with talent.
The match started with the Russians in confident mood and, despite an early Italian try, they hit back with a vengeance scoring three tries through full back Andrey Otropov, left wing Mihail Babaev and newly-capped hooker Stan Selskiy, to take a 17-5 lead after 30 minutes.
The Russians were dominant in the line-out, their scrum worked well and their defensive establishment was well on top.
Then disaster struck: the Italians scored two quick tries through in-form right wing Andrea Bachetti, and a conversion gave the Azzuri a 19-17 lead.
“That was the crucial moment of the game”, said Russia coach Kingsley Jones later of the 10-minute spell that tilted the match Italy’s way. A further try by replacement hooker Nicola Belardo put the Russians further on the back foot and, with outside half Alberto Chiesa punching the ball deep behind the frustrated Russians, the Italians started to believe that they could snatch what had looked an improbable win.
They did so in style with Chiesa’s try sealing an impressive team performance, and also vindicating the decision to form the new Emerging Italy team and send them into the international arena.
Andrea Duodo, Manager, Emerging Italy: “Naturally we are very proud to win such a match against a team that played in the RWC 2011. But it must be understood that we did not come here to win matches. We have come to give our best young players an opportunity to be exposed to a higher level of rugby and prove themselves against better players. Winning is an optional extra and it is good for all of us, but it is not the main reason we brought this team here.”
Alex Voytov, Russia captain: “We started well and I felt that we controlled the set pieces well. The line-out was okay and so was the scrum. We tried to use every opportunity in attack, played a wide game and scored some nice tries. But then with ten minutes left in the first half we lost our composure, a combination of poor defence and a bad kicking game. Our mistakes gave Italy opportunities to play and score tries.”
Match 3: Portugal 9-41 Argentina Jaguars
Last year the two sides put on a spectacular display, the Lobos celebrating the Portuguese National Day with an inspired performance full of pride and guts to upset the Jaguars 25-21.
This year the Argentines returned to settle the score.
The side they selected was stronger, better and faster than the Jaguars of 2011 and that is why they defeated Portugal in uncompromising fashion, scoring six tries to three penalties.
This was a thoroughly competent Argentine performance, exemplary in its endeavor and clinical in its execution. The captain and outside half, Santiago Gonzales Iglesias, orchestrated the onslaught by varying the attack and alternating between backs and forwards. They battered the Portuguese defensive wall for some 25 minutes until it cracked under the charge of tight head prop Gaston Cortes, while Centre Jeronimo de la Fuente went over some 10 minutes later, the only two tries of the first half.
The onslaught continued in the second half with the Argentines piling on another 20 points for a final score of 41-9.
Daniel Hourcarde, coach Argentina Jaguars: "The elite programme of the last year in Argentina is paying off handsomely. The players here are part of this programme, so are the Under 20s, who beat Australia, as well as the Pumas, who leave on tour this month. The team here contains many players who played for the Pampas team in the Vodacom Cup and many who played in the South American Championship. They are in line to be the next Pumas and the competition is very strong."
Portugal Captain, Vasco Uva: "They are a very good team, they have lots of experience, they are fast and they are strong. They have improved a lot and today they were much better than us. Especially at the breakdown, they are very strong and we could not win our balls or contest theirs."
Match days 2 and 3
The second round of matches are to be played on 12 June with Portugal taking on Emerging Italy, Romania facing the Jaguars and Russia playing Uruguay. The third and final match day will be played on 17 June.