With only one win from four matches, it would be easy to say that Romania had an unsuccessful campaign at Rugby World Cup 2015.
For the Oaks, however, tt was mission accomplished in at least one important way.
Romania Command Attention After RWC 2015
“We came. . . to prove to everybody in the world that we’re capable of competing [with] Tier 1 nations,” head coach Lynn Howells said after his squad’s final match. “And we have achieved that.”
Indeed, the final scorelines of Romania’s three losses—38-11 against France, 44-10 against Ireland, and 32-22 against Italy—don’t paint a rosy picture. Yet those numbers don’t account for the Oaks’ grueling schedule, which saw them play Italy on four days’ rest and France on only three.
So yes, Howells may have been guilty of overemphasizing the positive. Nevertheless, he was right—Romania were competitive in every match.
The question, then, is whether that will be enough to force a long-overdue rethink by the higher-ups at World Rugby when it comes to Romania’s place on the priority list; from 2012 to the start of RWC 2015, they were awarded exactly zero tests against Tier 1 sides, home or away.
The reality is that Romania is not seen by the Tier 1 nations as a “glamour” opponent. For years there has been an assumption that games versus the Oaks—say, during the November tests—wouldn’t sell tickets in places like London, Dublin, or Paris. And forget about test matches in Bucharest, since visits to the 5,500-seat Arcul de Triumf Stadium are hardly equated with prestige or profit by teams accustomed to raking in 6 Nations money.
While such financial concerns are valid, they’re legitimate only up to a certain point. Romania, after all, has a long, proud rugby history, and with the help of World Rugby, their marketability could be built up to equal sides like Italy or Argentina.
Unfortunately, World Rugby has a reputation for taking good care of the”Big 10″—that is, the national rugby unions which participate in the 6 Nations or Rugby Championship—and treating the rest of the world as an afterthought. The inequitable allocation of RWC profits and ongoing neglect of Pacific Island teams are perfect examples of this, so Romania probably shouldn’t expect any favours.
There’s hope, however, that the Oaks’ respectable showing in England has opened some eyes to their potential to make a bigger impact on the global scene.
For one thing, there has been a groundswell of support for an expanded 6 Nations which would see Romania (and Georgia) somehow included in the tournament. One idea has been to increase the number of teams to eight, though this seems unlikely since a longer schedule would be opposed by European club teams already unhappy with loaning out their star internationals each spring. More likely could be the introduction of a promotion/relegation system, a notion which seems to be gaining traction.
Of course, this could all turn out to be a wheeze of social media hot air, nothing but the fantasies of overly-optimistic fans in Romania and Georgia. The 6 Nations profit machine is chugging along just fine, after all, and the potential inclusion of far-flung Eastern European sides probably doesn’t get the blood racing in the boardrooms of Western Europe.
Six Nations aside, there is some optimism in the cards. Harry Dumitras, President of the Romanian Rugby Federation (FRR), reportedly told a Romanian newspaper recently that the Oaks are almost certain to be hosting some Tier 1 tests next November.
That’s a start, and the onus is now on the FRR to do all they can to produce a team capable of beating whichever teams make the trek to Romania. Even Howells, optimistic as he was, admitted that there is some way to go in that regard.
“It’s about developing a game that’s a little bit more expansive than what we’re playing at the moment,” he admitted when asked where Romanian rugby needs to go between now and Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan. “I just hope it’s not four years before we play a Tier 1 nation again.”
Fans of compelling rugby, no matter what country they’re from, should accept nothing less.