Romania secured third place in the Rugby World Cup 2023 European qualifying table after a comfortable 38-12 win over the Netherlands in Amsterdam on Saturday.
The bonus-point win saw the Oaks finish on 28 points across the two years of the qualification cycle, from 2021 to 2022, 16 points behind champions Georgia and one fewer than Spain, the region’s two automatic qualifiers.
Romania will now compete with three other teams in the Final Qualification Tournament for the 20th and final ticket to Rugby World Cup 2023.
A place in Pool C alongside Wales, Australia, Fiji and Europe 1 qualifier Georgia awaits the winner of that tournament.
Romania went into the game against the Netherlands as firm favourites having won all eight previous encounters against the bottom team in the division.
Tries from Gabriel Rupanu, Ionut Dumitru, Hickley Vaovasa and Ovidiu Cojocaru ensured Romania had the bonus point in the bag just past the half-hour mark, with Ionel Melinte successful with all bar one of the conversions for a 26-0 lead.
But the Dutch put in a spirited display in the latter stages of the first half at the National Rugby Centre, scoring tries through Spike Salman and Christopher Raymond just before the interval,
Turning around 26-12 up, Romania kept their line intact in the second half as well as adding a couple more tries for a 38-12 win.
It wasn’t until the 71st minute that the Dutch resistance was broken again, Nicolas Onutu crossing the line before captain Mihai Macovei added a sixth five minutes later.
After the game Romania head coach Andy Robinson said: “We were 26-0 up and then let the Netherlands back into things. When we play well we are good, but we switch off at times and it is a lesson for us.
“Now we will build towards the repechage with some games in the summer and then it will come around in November – as a squad we need to be fitter, but we can grow from here and we will get better.”
The Netherlands have yet to win in nine outings since returning to the second tier of European rugby for the first time in 19 years in 2021.
But head coach Zane Gardiner is confident they will continue to grow as a team with continued exposure to higher-ranked teams.
“We just need time at this level, we are able to compete just now in patches of games, but need to compete for 80 minutes at a time,” he said.
Georgia secure a fifth straight title
Meanwhile, Georgia powered their way to a fifth consecutive Rugby Europe Championship title, beating fellow European Rugby World Cup 2023 qualifiers Spain 49-15 in Tbilisi.
The match was on a knife edge with half an hour to play and Georgia only leading 21-15, but the Lelos turned on the style to score four converted tries in the final quarter.
Scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze got the scoring underway at the Dinamo Stadium in the third minute with the first drop goal of his 64-test career.
The respective fly-halves, Tedo Abzhandadze and Manuel Ordas then traded penalties before Spain, who went into the match as the Rugby Europe Championship 2022 leaders, scored the first try through dangerous winger Jordi Jorba.
Fellow number 14, Akaki Tabutsadze soon hit back for Georgia with his 11th try in as many games and flanker Otar Giorgadze added another to make the half-time score 18-8 to the hosts.
Spain needed to score first to get back in contention and they did that nine minutes into the second half when hooker Santiago Ovejero rumbled over, Ordas adding the extras to make it a three-point game.
However, Spain failed to trouble the scorers thereafter and Georgia stepped up a gear to finish as convincing winners.
An Abzhandadze penalty made it 21-15 before captain Merab Sharikadze raced under the posts to put further daylight between the teams.
Tabutsadze and Giorgadze both got their second tries of the match soon after and it was left to hooker Giorgi Chkoidze to round off an excellent win.
“We played well when it mattered in this game and it means everything to win the trophy again. Spain are a good side, they played well, but we played better and now we start building up to the World Cup next year,” said Georgia head coach Levan Maisashvili.
Spain head coach Santiago Santos was phlegmatic in defeat. “We have to congratulate Georgia, they performed better and deserve to be champions,” he said.
“It is disappointing to lose this game, but the bigger picture is that we are going to the World Cup and we cannot wait to grow the sport in our country.”
Photos by Dennis van de Sande and the Georgia Rugby Union