The ‘perfect end to the perfect tournament’ is Lynn Howells’s take on the conclusion of IRB Nations Cup 2012.
Romania’s Director of Rugby has guided the host nation to consecutive wins over Uruguay and Argentina Jaguars to set up a winner-takes-all decider in Bucharest on Sunday against an Emerging Italy side also boasting an unblemished record.
“The organisers couldn’t have planned it better, could they?” said Howells.
“Out of the six sides out here, I would say the best two are playing for the Cup.
“From our point of view we have played above the level that I anticipated.
“The players are over the moon with what they have achieved. The big thing for them was to beat Uruguay because IRB World Ranking points were at stake.
“And we were all delighted with the result against Argentina because nobody expected us to beat them.
“The final match is one for us to enjoy really; all the pressure is off.”
Howells added: “The really pleasing thing for us is that only four of the players played in the last Rugby World Cup, so we have managed to get this far with a young and inexperienced side.
“It has worked out very well and we clearly have greater strength in depth than I first thought.
“My biggest concern was whether we would be able to cope in the absence of Marius Tincu who is now on the coaching staff.
“Marius has been the cornerstone of Romanian rugby for the last 10 years as a senior player and captain and has pulled the team through single-handedly at times.
“But it is good that we have got players coming in and stepping forward.”
Managing well in the heat
While less than impressed by the 35 degree heat experienced in Romania during the last fortnight, Howells is full of admiration for the way the tournament has been run.
He added: “The Romania Federation and the IRB must take a lot of credit for that.
“It is not easy playing three games back-to-back on one pitch. As soon as one game finishes another one kicks off. But this has been managed really well and the whole operation has been very professional.”
Emerging Italy, effectively a representative side for the country’s domestic league, Campionato Nazionale Eccellenza, has beaten both Russia and Portugal on their way to the showdown with Romania.
Like his Romania counterpart Howells, Team Manager Andrea Duodo insists winning Sunday’s final is not the be-all and end-all.
With the exception of 24-cap centre, Mario Pratichetti, the Emerging Italy squad is made of players yet to feature for the Azzuri.
For Duodo, the Nations Cup has been about developing international players of the future by exposing them to the demands of tournament rugby.
Once the Nations Cup has finished many of the squad will go on to link up with the new RaboDirect Pro 12 outfit, Zebre, to gain further experience.
Judging by the wins over Russia and Portugal the future of Italian rugby looks promising. The average of their squad is just 22.
“The secret of this team is the exuberance of youth: they all grew up together in the academy and they simply love to play rugby,” Duodo said.
“They have shown great spirit in the two matches to date, refusing to let their heads drop after going behind to Russia and Portugal who, it has to be remembered, are first XVs.
“Obviously if we win the cup it is good for Italian rugby, but our main aim is to create a new group of potential players who can play at the highest international level.”
The final day of action in the Nations Cup kicks off with a match between Argentina Jaguars and Russia, the sides placed third and fourth respectively. This is followed by a clash between the bottom two, Portugal and Uruguay before Romania and Emerging Italy bring the curtain down on the tournament with what promises to be a grand finale.