By Chris Thau in Bucharest
Romania 30 Tries: Matei (21), Fercu (25), Macovei (42); Conversions: Vlaicu (3); Penalties: Vlaicu (3)
Russia 20 Tries: Kurashov (4), Kushnarev (14); Conversions: Kushnarev (2); Penalties: Kushnarev (2)
Reigning IRB Nations Cup champions Romania made a winning start to their title defence with a come-from-behind 30-20 victory over Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifying rivals Russia at the Arcul de Triumf Stadium in Bucharest.
Despite playing in pouring rain Russia made a blistering start and scored two converted tries to a single penalty in reply to lead 14-3 approaching the end of the first quarter.
Russia left wing Igor Kurashov capitalised on a series of defensive blunders by the home side to get the Bears’ account up and running with only four minutes on the clock.
Ten minutes later he was joined on the try scorer’s list by full back Yury Kushnarev, who sprinted between the flat-footed Romanian defence for a scintillating score, which he again converted
A young Romania side refused to lose its cool, though, and, as the match wore on they visibly grew in confidence.
The formidable front row of newcomer Constantin Pristavita, Andrei Radoi and veteran Paulica Ion demolished their Russian counterparts at scrum time and this set-piece dominance laid the foundation for the Oaks’ revival.
Lively left wing Adrian Matei and the increasingly influential full back Catalin Fercu both crossed the Russian line within four minutes of each other. Florin Vlaicu, who earlier kicked a penalty, converted both scores to put Romania in front at 17-14. A Kushnarev penalty levelled the scores just before Uruguayan referee Joquin Montes called for time.
The Romanian assault continued after the break and they were rewarded with a further try scored by their dynamic captain Mihai Macovei, who is developing into a player of note.
Vlaicu converted the try and then traded penalties with Kushnarev to take the score to 27-20 in Romania’s favour.
Centre Vlaicu finished the match with 15 points when he landed his sixth kick two minutes from time to ensure loose-head prop Pristavita, flanker Vlad Nistor and backs Ionut Dumitru and Florin Ionita all enjoyed winning debuts.
What they said:
Romania coach - Lynn Howells: “It’s always very important to get a win in the first game. I don’t think we played very well, we made far too many errors. But to play against a Tier 2 nation and get a win, that’s good enough for me.”
Russia Head Coach - Kingsley Jones: “It looked like two teams that hadn’t spent a lot of time together. We scored some easy tries, but made too many mistakes and we were not as organised as we should have been. Romania really could have scored a couple more tries, but the positive is that we saw a lot of young players today, particularly replacements.”
Emerging Italy 26: Tries: Ruffallo (10, 20); Conversions: Ambrosini (2); Penalties: Ambrosini (3); Drop Goals: Ambrosini (1)
Argentina Jaguars 6: Penalties: Poet (2)
Leaving aside the significant role played by the wet weather in the outcome of the second match of the first day, there is very little doubt that Emerging Italy deserved to prevail over a talented but somewhat immature Jaguars team. However the 20-point winning margin was perhaps not a fair reflection of the play on show.
At the centre of Emerging Italy’s success was blindside flanker Eduardo Ruffallo, the scorer of both their tries in the first half.
The poor form of the Jaguars' kicker Sebastian Poet, who missed all bar two of his attempts at goal, added to the Argentine discomfort. His Italian counterpart, James Ambrosini had, by way of contrast, a more productive evening, which included, in addition to a nicely struck drop goal, three penalties and two conversions.
Four yellow cards split evenly between the sides, the last three during the closing quarter of the match, were the result of an increasing sense of frustration amongst the young Argentines, as well as the spoiling tactics employed by the Italians when the Jaguars threatened their line.
Romania take on Argentina Jaguars in the first installment of Wednesday’s double bill, followed by Emerging Italy v Russia.
What they said:
Argentina Jaguars coach – Daniel Hourcarde: “Italy were more efficient and scored when they had the chance, while we failed to do so: that was the difference. They deserved to win, as we made too many mistakes and lost too much possession.”
Emerging Italy coach - Andrea Sgorlon: “We responded well to the Argentine challenge. We covered the field well and ran the ball from everywhere, as we had planned to do in training. It’s pleasing to win our first game at what is a very strong tournament.”