Director of rugby Ellis Meachen may have been on the other side of the world when Romania were crowned FIRA-AER European Group A Under 19 champions on Saturday, but he is under no illusions as to the size of their achievement.
Meachen has spent the last five weeks touring his native New Zealand and the Pacific Islands with a 30-strong Romanian squad, immersing his youthful charges in cultures where rugby is akin to religion to whet their appetites for future success.
Nearly half of the squad was aged under 21, a clear indication of Meachen’s focus, so the Under 19 side's success in qualifying for the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in Kenya next April as European champions was a significant landmark.
“The Under 19 team’s achievement, that is outstanding and credit to their coaches and credit to some of the players,” Meachen told Total Rugby a couple of days after Romania edged East-European rivals Georgia 31-28 in the final in Poland.
“A couple of those players I wanted to bring on this tour, but the importance of trying to get up into that top junior rugby group was more important, so we left them behind and they were some of the standout players that played so well.
“Obviously they were fortunate to get past Portugal on the try count [in the semi final after drawing 20-20], but by all accounts to go through to the final and they acquitted themselves well in the final.”
Romania will now have a second shot at winning the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy – and with it promotion to the IRB Junior World Championship – after finishing fourth in the inaugural event in 2008, ironically losing their third place playoff 34-10 to Georgia.
Bright future on horizon
For Meachen that is key and he expects some of the players who tasted success in Poland to make the step to senior rugby in the near future, a progression which the New Zealander hopes will signal a bright future for Romania.
“We had 12 guys who were under 21 on our tour [to New Zealand and the Pacific islands] and that is a big portion of our touring party,” Meachen continued.
“Traditionally Romania doesn’t pick young players and so that was a turnaround for them and to be fair the young players were probably the standouts on the tour. Some of the older players let us down in crucial times, so the young players have done really well.
“With some of those players coming through from the Under 19s it looks pretty good for Romanian rugby over the next few years.
“Our first target is it qualify [for Rugby World Cup 2011] and we will be doing whatever is necessary to qualify and that means using the experienced players and mixing them up with some of our younger players and creating a good mix moving forward.”