Romania’s ongoing tour of the South Pacific seems to be having the outcome that Director of Rugby Ellis Meachen hoped, immersing the group of 30 players into a culture where rugby is a religion.
Meachen, a New Zealander who was part of Tonga’s coaching set-up at last year’s Rugby World Cup in France, hopes that the experience for a youthful Romanian squad will whet the appetite for future success.
“The culture in the Pacific is different, rugby is like a religion here and in Romania rugby is a job these guys have got, so there is a totally different emphasis on rugby in Romania than there is in the Pacific and other rugby countries,” Meachen told Total Rugby Radio.
“Romania has got a lot of athletes I guess you would say, while New Zealand, Australia and South Africa have a lot of rugby sense and rugby nous – that is something Romania doesn’t really possess at the moment.
“I suppose by this tour and the immersion in this rugby culture (throughout New Zealand and in the Pacific) that is what we are hoping to introduce to Romania.“Rugby never gets on the front page in Romania, it's about six or seven pages in and on one column, so they can’t believe how much rugby dominates life over here.
“That is obviously what we are trying to say to them - if we get the results and we start pushing for a tier-one position, then the same will happen in Romania and we will get more people playing.”
Meachen may be drawing on his past experiences and those of former All Black prop Steve McDowell, Romania’s fitness guru, but he is also wary not to neglect Romania's culture. In fact, he is going out of his way to enhance the players' own sense of the country's rugby pedigree and history and both he and McDowell have moved to Romania, with families in tow.
Romanian culture equally important
“We have got Marin Mot, a long-time coach at Steaua in Romania, and Alexandru Marin, who is a former winger for the national team as well. We have got an ambassador of the team in Mircea Paraschiv, probably one of the most famous Romanian players ever.
“We have got a good group there, obviously we are getting a New Zealand influence and New Zealand training ethos laid down but we are not neglecting the Romanian culture and Romanian way of doing things.
“Steve and I have got to learn, so we are learning some of the Romanian team songs that we have re-introduced and we have got a Romanian team mascot and just trying to get back some of the things that they used to have, but have maybe been put to the side in the professional era.”
Romania have now left New Zealand soil with a record of one win over a Marist XV and narrow losses against an Auckland Development XV and Waikato XV. They are now in Samoa and face Samoa A in Apia this weekend before taking on Fiji A next Saturday in Suva before returning home.
After that, the challenge facing Meachen will be the European Nations Cup 2010, in which Romania compete with Georgia, Russia, Portugal, Spain and Germany for two qualification berths at Rugby World Cup 2011, or a second chance in the cross-continental play-off.
Setting bold ambitions
“Georgia and Russia are very physical teams, that is why we are looking to get as fit as we can and as technically correct as we can and the more time we spend together, the more time that we get to know each other, is only going to help us bind together as a team. That teamwork will get us through with our technical and our fitness skills.
“We think that in one or two years we could be pushing for a top 10 place [in the IRB World Rankings]. We think in 2011 that we will be quarter-finalists, we see that as a goal and the team has talked about that.
“I have been fortunate to coach in Tonga and coach against sides like Japan and the USA and I don’t think Romania is too far away from those teams. Obviously we are going through a rebuilding stage at the moment, but I would like to think that in a year’s time we would be very competitive against those teams.
“A team like Scotland, who aren’t traditionally good in the forwards, scrummaging, I think we would give them a good go in a year’s time, once our players have got a little bit more experience.”
Only time will tell, but in Meachen Romania may just have found the right catalyst for recovery.
RWC 2019 Tickets
RWC 2019 Official Ticketing site NOW LIVE
Fans can now register interest to apply for Rugby World Cup 2019 tickets