Chris Thau reports from Bucharest
At the beginning of a new RWC cycle, the IRB Nations Cup takes a strong developmental undertone for all participating Unions. Some Unions are forced by circumstances into selecting new-look teams, some do it as a matter of principle.
Uruguay are in Bucharest without eight of their first choice players. “I would have liked to have them here,” confessed head-coach Pablo Lemoine, “but they had jobs to go back to after the South American championship and we had to bring some of the aspiring players to Bucharest. That was visible against Romania and will definitely hamper our progress. For teams like ours every match is important and we cannot afford to relax.”
Their match against Russia, which ends the programme of the second tournament day, is viewed with equal apprehension by the head coach of their opponents, the indefatigable optimistic Philip Kingsley Brian Jones, commonly known as Kingsley Jones. “This is a match we must win given its significance for the IRB rankings. We came here with a team full of newcomers, trying to harness the potential of Russian rugby at the start of a RWC cycle.
“Some of our leading players were injured and some got a break to enable them to recharge their batteries. So, to give you an example, our hooker, Stas Seskiy who had a pretty decent match against Italy, is only 20 years old and is really fourth or fifth in the pecking order of the position, with the injured Vladislav Korshunov, the number one man. The same is valid for the backs, with Simplikevich, Artemiev, Ostroushko and Kliutchnikov, either injured or resting, or at lock forward with Kulemin, Ostrikov and Garbuzov either injured or resting.”
Portugal open against Emerging Italy
The day kicks off with the match between Portugal and Emerging Italy, whose unexpected, yet wholly deserved win over Russia on day one, pushed them to the top of the table, sharing the position with the impressive Jaguars.
The Portuguese are also without half a dozen regulars, unavailable for a variety of reasons, but as their captain Vasco Uva had pointed out, this a good opportunity for the squad to train and work together, in a tournament environment. Coach Errol Brains spent a fair bit of time taking the pack through the rigours of a stiff scrummaging session in the blazing sun, while Murray Cox got the backs practising. The Italians, on the other hand, although they have lost two players - Andrea di Marchi injured in training and Alessandro Tartaglia, called as a replacement by the U20s in South Africa - are still the front runners, unless the Lobos pull of one of their traditional upsets, similar to their last-minute win over the Jaguars last year.
Jaguars favourites against hosts
The Jaguars, whose classy display against the Lobos on day one gave a good hint of the quality of their squad and of course their ambitions, must be rated as hot favourites against Romania, also experimenting with a lot youngsters in key positions. The Jaguars have made wholesale changes to the team that beat Portugal 41-9, with only four players retaining their places in the starting line-up: one of the locks Felipe Angueren, the blindside flanker Javier Ortega Desio, right wing Lisandro Gomez Lopez and full back Ramiro Moyano.
Santiago Gonzales Iglesias is on the bench and in his absence the captaincy is handed over to fly half Benjamin Madero.
The Romanians have made five changes, probably the most significant the decision to move right wing Catalin Fercu to full back and give Tbilisi-born Otar Turshvili the starting berth at hooker. Veteran lock-forward Christian Petre moves onto the bench, so does full back Iulian Dumitras and scrum half Valentin Calafeteanu. It promises to be an intriguing match, in which the Jaguars, featuring about ten of their 2012 Pampas Vodacom outfit, are likely to be the front runners.