Rugby World CupRomania focus

Romania hold no fear of Ireland in opening Rugby World Cup match says backrow Vlad Necalau

Ever present in the competition, the Romanians are back in the World Cup after missing out in Japan 2019

They are a young side, callow and spirited. As Romanian backrow Vlad Necalau sees the World Cup match on Saturday unspool, Ireland is a team that will meet a group of bodacious and gutsy minnows. He knows the world number one team will not know many of their names, have seen them play very often and understands that whatever rugby life has dealt ’The Oaks’ they will not turn up as a timid Tier II side on Saturday afternoon in Stade de Bordeaux.

Necalau admits Romania is a team that will fall back on traditional muscular values in the full knowledge they go into the first match of this World Cup adventure hopelessly outnumbered by the stats and outperformed by the rankings. Back among the world’s best teams, they are where they want to be. But despite lion hearts in their breasts, underdog is in the soul.

“Sometimes maybe people will [say Romania are] inexperienced but I think they don’t hold a fear and we can have a go,” says flanker Neculau, captain of the semi-professional Romanian SuperLiga club Timișoara.

Romania’s base is a 40 minutes train journey outside of Bordeaux in a satellite town called Libourne in the Palais des Sports George Kany. It is an understated town with a small centre and picture postcard flaking buildings with sun-cracked shutters. That’s all fine. South Africa can have the seafront hotel in Toulon, because Romania know their place. Hope is to rise above it.


“I think it is best we are in a hard group competing against the best,” says Necalau. “This is a great teacher. We are here to learn, to play and improve ourselves and come back with big experience. The first thing we must do is to compete with ourselves, beat ourselves and to be better every day.

“Realistically speaking, Ireland and their game will be another level that we are not used to. But I think a win for us would be a really good fight ... not an actual fight. We have to play on our strengths. We saw how Ireland is playing. We are looking forward to that and to compete.

“One of the Romanian side’s strengths are the driving mauls and the scrums. I think these are all key. That is how we identify Romania. We didn’t have a good start with the Test matches but this doesn’t affect us and we want to build up a great performance here.”

Romania lost 17-31 to the USA, who did not qualify for this World Cup, then went to Stadionul Arcul de Triumf in Bucharest, where Georgia won 56-6. In the final warm-up match in San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy beat them 57-7. All in all, an inauspicious run-in.

Romania returned to the Rugby World Cup stage after finishing second in the European qualification table behind Georgia. They had been tournament ever presents until missing Japan 2019 and see Bordeaux as a return to a platform where their young can grow stronger.

While the team have never made it beyond the pool stages, on only two occasions have they left for home without a win to their name, in 1995 and 2011.

“Ireland have the capacity to hold the ball through a lot of phases and I think other teams break under that pressure and they are the teams Ireland score a lot of tries against,” says Necalau. “They can hold the ball in possession for eight, 10, 15 phases in a row. It is one of their biggest strengths.

“I think in the Test matches we saw where we can be weak. But I think that we fixed them. The training has been very good this week and I think we are good to go. Everyone wants good results and good go forward for the morale, but I think we can gather ourselves from the losses and put up a good performance.”

Romania have tasted the limelight. The official attendance of 89,297 for Romania’s game against Ireland at Wembley Stadium at the 2015 World Cup surpassed the previous tournament record by 248. That was set the previous week when New Zealand and Argentina at the same venue attracted a crowd of 89,019.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times