The sixth edition of the IRB Nations Cup kicks off at the National Stadium “Arcul de Triumf” in Bucharest on 10 June  with the encounter between 2010 champions Namibia and hosts Romania – a repeat of the opening match of the 2010 tournament.

This is followed by Georgia, the third side bound for Rugby World Cup 2011 among the six-team Nations Cup field, taking on the South African Kings, a powerful selection from the Eastern and Southern Cape, with the day wrapped up by Portugal playing an Argentina Jaguars side featuring many players who recently retained their South American Championship crown. 

IRB Tournament Director Beth Coalter acknowledges that RWC 2011 in New Zealand is undoubtedly focusing the minds of the players and coaches of Romania, Georgia and Namibia.

“Similar to the IRB Nations Cup in 2007, the first to be held in Bucharest, the underlying theme of this year’s competition is the fast approaching RWC tournament,” explained Coalter.

“This year’s Nations Cup offers the three RWC-bound teams a great opportunity to compete in an international tournament as part of their preparations for New Zealand 2011.

Final chance for selection

“The aim of the Nations Cup has always been to provide teams from different continents with the opportunity to play against each other and Bucharest, the location for the last five years, has proven to be a great venue for this competition.”

In last year’s competition Namibia, led by the electric Saracens flanker Jacques Burger upset Romania with a well-deserved, last ditch win on the opening day, a performance they will be keen to repeat under the captaincy of experienced Aurillac flanker Jacques Nieuwenhuis, appointed skipper in the absence of Burger who is rested after helping his English club win last weekend’s Aviva Premiership final.

On the other hand, the aim of Romania, likely to be captained by Perpignan hooker Marius Tincu, is not only to kick off their campaign with a win, but to also play well, to produce a quality outcome, based on the three key factors their coach Romeo Gontineac regards as essential for developing a successful side – attitude, motivation and respect.

For Georgia, the IRB Nations Cup has become an important event in their calendar, never more so than in a Rugby World Cup year according to their coach Richie Dixon.

“This year it is of particular importance as we look to use the games in Bucharest to afford a number of players their final opportunity to win selection for our RWC 2011 squad,” explained the Scot.

Exciting feature

“In addition we will use the Nations Cup to test a number of other players whom we feel should be in strong contention for places in our national team after the RWC. This is very important to ensure our continuing development as a national team.”

The contrast between the forward-oriented game of the Georgians, with veteran skipper Ilia Zedginidze back in the fold, and the running game of the SA Kings, coached by former Springbok assistant coach Alan Solomons, will be an exciting feature of the tournament.

“The Kings wish to give a good account of themselves, thereby showing that the players have the ability to play at an elevated level,” explained Solomons. “We are also aware of our responsibility of assisting both Georgia and Romania in their preparation for RWC 2011.”

The arrival of never-say-die Portugal, the hosts of the first IRB Nations Cup in 2006 and appearing for the first time in the Bucharest line-up, will certainly add spice to an already exciting tournament.

New coach Errol Brain, the former Auckland, Counties and Waikato flanker and NZ Maori captain, and his players are looking forward to the tournament, with the opening match against the fired up Jaguars, offering them the opportunities to state their credentials.

Learning curve

“The players have worked very hard physically in preparing for this tournament and will hopefully play an exciting brand of rugby that suits our players profile,” said Brain. 

“The team is under no illusions as to the very difficult task of having to play in succession the Jaguars, Namibia and the SA Kings in 13 days but we are excited by the challenge. 

“We are coming to Bucharest with a very young team made up in majority by players living in Portugal, and while we want to play a brand of rugby that we are proud of, we also must learn and come back from Bucharest better rugby players with a realistic expectation of what is required to play international rugby.”

Coalter added: “With RWC 2011 just around the corner, and with Georgia and Romania in the same pool in the World Cup, their games against Namibia, the African Kings and Argentina Jaguars will be closely watched.

“Add to that the desire of Portugal to prove that they deserved to be in New Zealand, having narrowly missed out on a place at RWC 2011, the strength of the Jaguars and the South African Kings and we have a good recipe for an exciting tournament.”

Round 1: Friday, 10 June
17:00 - Romania v Namibia
19:00 - Georgia v South African Kings
21:00 - Argentina Jaguars v Portugal

Round 2: Wednesday, 15 June
17:00 - Georgia v Argentina Jaguars
19:00 - Romania v South African Kings
21:00 - Portugal v Namibia

Round 3: Sunday, 19 June
17:00 - Portugal v South African Kings
19:00 - Georgia v Namibia
21:00 - Romania v Argentina Jaguars