With Belgium’s government not allowing their national rugby team to leave the country to fulfil Sunday’s fixture at Ion Oblemenco stadium in Craiova, theirs and Romania’s fate in the Rugby Europe Championship still hang in the balance.
It is but another delay in an already delayed competition that was due to be finished in March last year but was then put on hold until November. November came and went without any resumption in play, resulting in the final round being rescheduled for this weekend. Now, Rugby Europe face a decision about how best to proceed.
Romania’s players have not played together for nearly a year, although the national domestic championship, the Super Liga, did take place at the end of November and was won again by Baia Mare.
Since then the Oaks have had two training camps, one in Turkey in December and another in preparation for their final round encounter against Belgium, which was due to decide who finishes bottom of the standings and face a relegation play-off with Rugby Europe Trophy winners, the Netherlands.
In attendance at both camps was former Scotland assistant coach, Stevie Scott, the newest addition to the Oaks’ coaching team.
“I’m really enjoying being involved in international rugby again because you get a good block of time to work with the players and then you get a few weeks off to refresh again,” said the man from the Scottish Borders, capped 11 times by his country.
“When Romania contacted me, they said the set-piece was an area they felt where they could get massive gains from. They’ve got the size but the technical work is the big thing to hammer home with them, and that’s what I enjoy doing,” 46-year-old Scott said.
“The thing that strikes me the most is the players are really keen and willing to learn and improve which is what you always want as a coach.”
Working with Romania sees Scott reunited with his former Scotland boss and the current Oaks head coach, Andy Robinson.
“I enjoyed my time with Andy with Scotland, and although it is a few years down the line, it is good to come back together and share our ideas.
“We’re both very detailed coaches and we have really in-depth conversations around forward play.
“Andy is a great forwards coach and he is really open and prepared to have discussions. The bottom line is to make players better, and to win.”
Winning is something that the Oaks haven’t managed to do very often of late. A 24-7 victory over Spain was their sole success in the first four rounds of Rugby Europe Championship 2020, leaving them fearing for their future at this level.
Since 2000, Romania have won the Rugby Europe Championship four times and have only finished outside of the top-three once (in 2009).
The most recent of those titles wins came in 2017 and, at that time, the Oaks had been ever-presents at the Rugby World Cup.
However, failure to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2019, and the impact of COVID-19 has led to a difficult couple of years for a country that was once rated as the sixth-best in Europe, ahead of Italy.
The prospect of relegation to the third-tier Rugby Europe Trophy is something they have never experienced before. It would make qualification for Rugby World Cup 2023 all but mathematically impossible.
But Romania Rugby Federation President and former Oaks player, Alin Petrache, has faith that the improved coaching team and the crop of exciting young players coming through the system will deliver better times.
“Romania's main goal is to qualify to the 2023 World Cup in France and for this, we need to increase the level of the game,” said Petrache.
“Stevie worked with the Oaks in their preparation camp in Antalya, and the feedback was excellent.
“Let's not forget he was a front-row player, he knows from the inside the pressure put on the first row.
“I trust the staff we have – Andy Robinson, Stevie Scott and Sosene Anesi – is capable of making Romanian rugby shine again.”
Triumf over adversity
Undeterred by the coronavirus pandemic, Petrache pressed on with Romania’s ambitious plans to redevelop the Arcul de Triumf Stadium.
The modernisation of Romanian rugby’s headquarters was completed in December, but the project needs to be signed off by the relevant authorities before matches can be played there.
Scott says he knew Romania and Petrache meant business as soon as laid eyes on the facility.
“They’ve built a £20-odd million stadium for the team with a swimming pool, hotel, restaurant … everything is in one area. When I saw the stadium, you could see there was a focus on getting rugby back to where it was in the past.”
It is a past worth remembering. Romania defeated France in every decade, from the 60s through to the 90s, with wins against Scotland and Wales along the way.
But the Romanian revolution and the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime triggered a sudden decline in fortunes.
The revolution led to the withdrawal of state-funded support for sport and also cost six national team players their lives.
An on-field nadir was reached in 2001 when the Oaks were felled 134-0 by England.
Petrache was at the halfway point of his 31-cap career when packing down at number eight on that grey November day at Twickenham.
While that heavy defeat hurt, Petrache’s determination to make Romania a strong rugby force again has never wavered, as a player, president or as a World Rugby Council member.
“Every loss is a lesson. I think one can find his motivation for the future in this kind of experience. After all, we have had our share of wins in the meantime.
“I vowed to myself to help Romanian rugby just because I love this sport and I am very passionate about it,” he said.