Romania and Emerging Italy are set for an IRB Nations Cup 2013 title decider on Sunday after making it two wins from two in the competition.
By Chris Thau in Bucharest
Romania 30 Argentina Jaguars 8
Lock forward Valentin Poparlan celebrated his 26th birthday in style with a valuable first half try in a solid, and at times, spectacular win for Romania by 30 points to 8 against a dynamic, yet surprisingly error-prone Jaguars team in round two of the IRB Nations Cup.
Motivated by the news that all eight Jaguar forwards were in fact capped at senior level, the young Romanian pack set about making an immediate impression on their opponents. “I told them that they were playing against Pumas and not Jaguars and challenged them to show what they are made of,” said coach Lynn Howells, the seasoned Welshman who is slowly acquiring cult-status among the Romanian rugby public.
Shoved off the ball
The early doubts about the prowess of the Romanian front five, confronted with the renowned prowess of the Argentine scrum, were emphatically answered at the first engagement of the match, when the Jaguars were shoved off the ball and the hosts were rewarded with a penalty, which was duly converted by Florin Vlaicu.
The temporary injury of loose head rookie, Alex Tarus, weakened the Romanian scrum, though his understudy Silviu Suciau, also winning his first cap, did his best to cope with the demands placed upon him. Nevertheless, it was a scrum penalty that brought the Jaguars back on level terms.
Gifted wrapped try
Another penalty by Voicu enabled Romania to move three points ahead, before hooker Eugen Capatana capitalised on another Argentine error to launch a brisk counter-attack, with scrum half Florin Surugiu in hot pursuit. The scrum half managed to secure the ball and flipped it to full back Catalin Fercu who combined with fly half Tiberius Dimofte to provide Poparlan with the perfect birthday present.
After the break Romania increased their lead, as skipper Mihai Macovei went over for another try following a driving maul at a lineout near the Argentine goal line on the right flank. Vlaicu added the extras.
Jaguars left wing Dan Issak then got on the end of a grubber kick to score in the corner. But Romania surged back and had the final word when Vlaicu demonstrated his physicality to brush aside a couple of defenders and force his way over for the final try of the match, which he also converted.
Commenting after the match, Poparlan said: "I am delighted with the birthday present the team has given me - a good win against the Jaguars, and I am delighted that I contributed to it too. This was a spectacular game, with changes of pace and attacks on both sides. Our pack has played well today; we advanced in the scrum and won the rucks."
Russia 19 Emerging Italy 27
Not even an overhead thunder storm and lightning strike, which caused a temporary halt to proceedings at the Arcul de Triumf Stadium, could thwart Emerging Italy’s bid to make it two wins out of two at this year’s IRB Nations Cup.
With Emerging Italy leading 22-12 in the 70th minute, referee Neil Patterson, on the instruction of tournament manager Lucian Lorin and referee’s manager Nigel Whitehouse, told the players to leave the field in the interests of safety, a decision that both coaches – Kingsley Jones (Russia) and Andrea Sgorlon (Emerging Italy) - agreed with.
The enforced break in play seemed to suit Russia best, as the Bears came out and scored within six minutes of the re-start to set up a grandstand finish.
Great footballing skills
Full back Sergei Sugrobov showed great footballing skills to control and kick through a loose Italian pass for a try which Yury Kushnarev converted to reduce the deficit to just three points.
However, Emerging Italy showed just why they are so highly-rated at this year’s tournament with a rapid response, fly half Simone Ragusi scoring their second try of the evening with the clock running down. With no further scoring Emerging Italy won by 27 points to 19.
The first half was largely a battle of the boot between the respective fly halves, with Kushnarev, who had been moved to the number 10 jersey from full back, slotting all four of his attempts at goal and his opposite number, Ragusi, successful with his first three efforts.
Back-to-back yellow cards
Despite being down to 13 men following back-to-back yellow cards, Emerging Italy took the lead for the first time in the match on 38 minutes. Right wing Alessandro Castagnoli picked up a loose ball on halfway following a poor Russian re-start and scored the opening try of the evening without a hand being laid on him. Ragusi added the conversion to make the half-time score 16-12 in their favour.
Ragusi then kicked two second-half penalties before the weather intervened. While the back clouds had a silver lining for Russia in the form of Sugrobov’s try, it was not enough to dampen the spirits of Emerging Italy who can now look forward to a winner-takes-all clash with reigning champions Romania on Sunday.