Romania missing out on Rugby World Cup 2019 was a crushing blow for all concerned with rugby in the proud eastern European country.
It was the first time the Oaks had missed out on an appearance at the game’s greatest tournament and the hope is that it will never happen again.
Choosing former England and Scotland head coach Andy Robinson as the man to lead them back to where they feel they belong in November 2019 was a strong statement of the country’s ambition to get back on track. And, so far, things are working out nicely.
Three big games in the Rugby Europe Championship this weekend, the refereeing appointments have been made! https://t.co/HHpsk6T6MD— Rugby Europe (@rugby_europe) February 2, 2022
With three wins and 14 points carried over from last year’s Rugby Europe Championship, Romania go into this year’s campaign – the second half of the Rugby World Cup 2023 regional qualification process – with a strong platform to build on.
Romania also ran Argentina very close in July before beating the higher-ranked Uruguay and Tonga in November, so confidence is high, and with three home games to look forward to in the Rugby Europe Championship 2022, they will be favourites to edge out the likes of Portugal and Spain in the race for the Europe 2 spot at RWC 2023.
“What’s good is that whoever's been in the team has understood they’ve got a job to do, and there’s been consistency in our performance,” said Robinson, the former England flanker.
“It didn’t matter who was playing, there was consistency from each squad member.
“Rugby is rugby, and you have got to be able to play what’s in front of you.
“We are trying to develop our maul, and we are starting to get some strength there, and we’re getting people to improve their skills, whether that’s running with the ball or in their tackle technique.
“Plus, we’ve improved our fitness. I think if you are always improving your fitness, your defence can improve and therefore your work-rate improves. Florin Tasca is running the S&C programme, he played hooker for Romania many years ago.
“But it is not just about what we do in the gym, it is the intensity of our training sessions. We are trying to create durable players who use the fitness they’ve got to improve performance.”
🇷🇴 | Marius Antonescu prepares for Russia “They are one of our direct opponents for qualification for the @rugbyworldcup, so they will come with their best team"— Rugby Europe (@rugby_europe) January 31, 2022
It all kicks off this weekend with places at @France2023 on the line. 👇https://t.co/cNCaQ98OOz
Against Portugal in March last year, Romania came back from the dead, scoring two converted tries in the final 10 minutes to win 28-27, and they finished strongly in November wins against Uruguay and Tonga.
The Argentina game that preceded them went the other way, with Los Pumas scoring late on to avoid what would have been the biggest shock of the year.
Robinson has been around long enough in his stellar career as a player and coach to know that the results sheet in 2021 could have looked very different to one that reads won six, lost three.
“What we have started to do is win some games and that has given confidence to players,” he said.
“If you look at last year’s games, we could have won all of those games, including the one against Argentina and Georgia, or we could have lost all of those games apart from the game against the Netherlands.
“In all the games we lost, we were in a position to win with 10 minutes to go. If you look at the games we’ve won, we have been in a similar position but have managed to win the game.
“Against Argentina (a 24-17 defeat), it all came down to a couple of missed tackles, a couple of silly penalties given away.
“There are very fine margins.
“As coaches, that’s the element we are stressing to the players. If we continue to improve our skills and keep working hard, then more of those fine margins will land on our side.”
Starting from scratch
Romania begin their Rugby Europe Championship 2022 campaign against Russia, in Bucharest on Saturday, 5 February.
Robinson is approaching it with a clean slate.
“With any performance, you have to start again and build it up and focus on what you do well and how you are going to make it work,” he said.
“We can’t go on the pitch as if we are 32-20 up as we were against Tonga. You’ve got to start at nil-nil.
“We haven’t beaten Russia for a couple of years and they have dominated us in games, so we have to think about how we are going to turn that around.”
As for Rugby World Cup 2023, Robinson is taking nothing for granted.
“The first aim is to beat Russia, we can’t get further ahead of ourselves than that. After that, we will take it step by step.”