There may have been one saving grace on the pitch for Romania in their Rugby World Cup action on Sunday, but it came without fans in the seats or opponents on the field.
That’s because Romanian scrum-half Florin Surugiu, with his teammates behind him, proposed to his girlfriend Alexandria during the post-game at Wembley Stadium.
Romania Lose to Ireland, Get a Big Win Anyway
Happily, she accepted, and the festive scene that followed was a good reminder that there are much more important things in life than sport.
Just as well, too, because Surugiu’s team had spent the afternoon being manhandled 44-10 by Ireland.
No doubt about it, 34 points was a disappointing gap for the Oaks, especially in the current environment of pie-eyed optimism brought on by Brave Blossom Tea.
Still, Ireland were fielding what was essentially a second-string team, and still managed to set the tone early, attacking in waves from inside the Romanian half. In a clear foreshadowing of what was to come throughout the match, the Oaks defended almost non-stop through the first four minutes, only got their hands on the ball after an Irish knock-on, and kicked for touch at the first opportunity.
This hard-tackling, conservative approach is, of course, a Romanian rugby trademark, so it came as little surprise. But it allowed the Irish pressure to continue until the inevitable breakdown penalty finally came against Oaks skipper Mihai Macovei, allowing the men in green an easy shot at the posts and a 3-0 lead.
That would be the end of any serious pressure by Romania for most of the afternoon, however, and a green tidal wave began: In the 10 minutes following Calafeteanu’s kick, Ireland would manufacture a narrowly-overturned try, a second successful penalty, and finally a converted try, thus stretching the margin to 13-3.
The constant defending was taking its toll on Romania, and there was no more sure sign of this than Ireland’s dominance at the maul—normally an area of strength for the Oaks. More penalty trouble naturally followed, and when Daniel Carpo was pinged for side-entry at a ruck deep in Romanian territory, Ireland were already smelling blood and ignored the points on offer, electing to kick for touch instead. A lineout move and a bit of back-and-forth across the pitch, and the defending Six Nations champs were in again, grabbing an 18-3 lead which they would nurse to the halftime break.
It was more of the same in the second half, with Romania again struggling to get their hands on the ball and Ireland taking all the initiative. Another strong Irish maul set the platform for their third try, and at 25-3 the game was all but out of reach for Romania after 50 minutes.
At this point both sides began to make substitutions, most notably Florin Vlaicu coming in at fly-half for Romania and Rob Kearney in to take over at fullback for Ireland.
The changes had little impact on already the one-sided flow of the game, and the real gasoline-on-the-fire moment came in the 60th minute when Romanian centre Csaba Gal was yellow-carded for taking out his man in the air on an Irish garryowen. The play was more an issue of marginal timing than recklessness, but with a 10 minute man advantage Ireland punched in two more tries for a 37-3 lead, securing a bonus point for themselves in the process.
Yet another try, this in the 74th minute, stretched the Irish lead to 44-3 before Romania finally responded. Taking advantage of a bit of scrambled Irish positioning—scrum-half Conor Murray found himself out to sea on the wing—Romania were able to secure a lineout at the Irish 15m line. Despite some misadventures in the ensuing lineout and maul, the Oaks managed to cut the defecit to 44-8 when veteran Ovidiu Tonița crashed over the try line—a fitting moment for the lock who was on his record-setting 14th World Cup appearance for Romania. A simple conversion brought the score to its final resting place of 44-10 to Ireland.
In the end, Romania gave a reasonable account of themselves, but proved yet again they have a long way to go to compete with the “big dogs” of world rugby. Upgrading their ultra-conservative gameplan is job number one; against lower-level competition, the Oaks can afford to stay patient, bully the breakdown, and steer the game towards the scrum, where they can win kickable penalties. Teams like Ireland, however, move the ball away from the ruck too quickly for Romania to gain a foothold in the trenches, thereby nullifying such a one-dimensional strategy.
Of course, there is a reason that Romania stay away from the wide-open spaces: their overall talent in the backline isn’t up to snuff, as their own coach has admitted.
For the rest of this World Cup, then, the Oaks are who they are, and will now turn their attention to their most winnable game in Pool D—the showdown with Canada on October 6.
And no matter the one-sided result against Ireland, there’s sure to be a good party in the Romanian camp thanks to Florin and Alexandria.