The European qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2023 finally comes to an end in Amsterdam this Saturday with Romania looking to secure the win that will enable them to take the next step on the journey to France.
Victory over the Netherlands would guarantee them third place in the combined 2021 and 2022 Rugby Europe Championship standings behind Georgia and Spain and see the Oaks enter into the Final Qualification Tournament in November.
The Africa Cup runner-up, the Asia/Pacific Play-off loser and the Americas 2 play-off loser (USA/Chile) will then compete with the European representative for the 20th and final ticket to France 2023.
Romania have beaten Russia (34-25) and Portugal (37-27) in the 2022 Championship while losing to Spain (38-21) and Georgia (36-23).
“We make the trip to Amsterdam, fully focussed on performing well against a vastly improving young Netherlands team,” said Romania head coach Andy Robinson.
“The Netherlands have caused many problems to opposition defences with their fluent attacking game, but just lacked the execution in the final third of the pitch.
“Last weekend against Georgia was our best performance of the year, so despite the disappointing loss, the squad come into this final game full of confidence.
“Our goal of RWC 2023 qualification is still alive so there is a lot for the team to play for.”
Oaks change six, while Dutch veteran prepares to bow out
Romania will climb back above USA into 17th place in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini with victory over the Netherlands.
Robinson has made six personnel and two positional changes to his starting line-up for the trip to Amsterdam.
Vasile Balan shifts across to loose-head with Costel Burtila promoted from the bench to start at tight-head. Elsewhere in the pack, captain Mihai Macovei shifts to blindside with Andre Gorin back at number eight
In the backs, fly-half Daniel Plai will partner Gabriel Rupanu at half-back with Vladut Popa and Hinckley Vaovasa forming a new centre pairing
With Marius Simionescu injured, Paul Popoaia comes onto the left wing to join Ionut Dumitru and Ionel Melinte in the back three.
Having recently said farewell to former national team captain Dirk Danen a few weeks ago, the Netherlands hand a swansong appearance to another veteran in Storm Carroll.
The 37-year-old is set to win his 38th and final cap for the Dutch and will retire as his country’s second most-capped player behind Hugo Langelaan if he is called up from the bench.
Netherlands coach Zane Gardiner has retained only six players from their last starting line-up, including the back three of Daan van der Avoird, Jordy Hop and Te Campbell.
Prop Hugo Langelaan goes again and is joined in the front row by brothers Mark and Andrew Darlington.
Koen Bloemen and Marijn Huis form the second-row partnership with Louis Bruinsma and Niels van der Ven joining Spike Salman in the back row
Caleb Korteweg and David Weersma will start at half-back with captain Bart Wierenga joined by Daily Limmen in the centres.
Kieran Hogg and Blake Nightingale are both set for their first appearances of the 2022 Championship, the former having last played for the Dutch in March 2019.
Romania have won all eight previous encounters against the Dutch, by an average winning margin of 37 points, so anything other than an away win would be a major shock. But if the Dutch do break their duck and win, they will move up to 25th place in the rankings at Russia’s expense.
The Netherlands have lost all eight matches played since returning to the Rugby Europe Championship in 2021 after a 19-year absence and are only kept off the bottom of the table by Russia.
It’s all on the line in Madrid
Fans of the Rugby Europe Championship will have to wait until Sunday to find out if there is to be a new name on the trophy as Spain and Georgia, the two most recent qualifiers for Rugby World Cup 2023, meet in Madrid.
Spain have never won the Rugby Europe Championship before, while Georgia will be intent on maintaining their monopoly of the competition with a fifth straight title.
Spain currently topping the standings with 17 points, two more than Georgia, and it should be a full-blooded encounter with both teams in form and silverware on the line.
Los Leones are on a six-game winning streak dating back to November 2021 and Georgia are unbeaten in 23 matches so something has to give.
The Lelos have won their last 10 meetings with Spain, dating back to a 25-18 loss in Madrid on 11 February, 2012, and if they make that 11, they will move above Samoa and into 12th place in the rankings.
Georgia coach Levan Maisashvili has made four changes to his starting line-up, all of them in the forwards
Guram Gogichashvili gets the nod at loosehead in a front row featuring Shalva Mamukashvili and Beka Gigashvili, while Nodar Cheishvili will start alongside Konstantine Mikautadze in the second row
Beka Saginadze is the only player retained in the back row with Otar Giorgadze and Beka Gorgadze coming into the team. It will be Gorgadze’s first appearance for Georgia since the 15-15 draw with Fiji in November
Spain, who announce their match-day squad on Friday, will climb to a new record high of 14th if they beat the Lelos for only the fourth time in history – as long as Italy don’t win their final Six Nations 2022 encounter against Wales the day before.
Los Leones will be the highest-ranked nation in the Rugby Europe Championship if they beat Georgia by more than 15 points, lifting them above the Lelos into 13th. This would be the first time since November 2013 that Georgia have not been the competition's leading team in terms of the rankings.
Top two go head-to-head in Trophy
There is also a top-of-the-table match to look forward to in the Rugby Europe Trophy as leaders Poland take on Belgium.
Poland have won all three of their fixtures to date and are on 12 points, one more than Belgium who lost to Switzerland in their most recent game back in the third tier of European competition
Poland will be the higher-ranked of the two nations if they beat the Black Devils, climbing as high as 27th. Belgium could fall as low as 31st if the margin of defeat is more than 15 points
Defeat would cost unbeaten Poland one to three places depending on the scoreline. Belgium cannot improve on their present position of 27th in victory.
In the weekend’s other game, Germany will swap places with Switzerland if they win their meeting in Heusenstamm, with a further rise possible if the margin is sufficiently big.
Switzerland are currently ranked one place higher than the Germans in 31st but will lose the four places they gained by beating Belgium last weekend if they are beaten by more than 15 points.
WHERE TO WATCH THE ACTION
Rugby Europe Championship 2022, Round 5
Saturday 19 March
Netherlands v Romania, kick-off 13:00 (local time), live on ZiggoTV (Netherlands), TVR1 (Romania), Sportall (France), North America (FloSports), Rugbyeurope.TV (other territories)
Sunday 20 March
Spain v Georgia, kick-off 18:00 (local time), live on TeleDeporte (Spain), IMEDI TV/RugbyTV (Georgia), Sportall (France), North America (FloSports), Rugbyeurope.TV (other territories)