Rugby Union: Heat on Wales: Clem Thomas weighs the Romanian challenge for a nation seeking to rebuild

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WELSH rugby may be forgiven a shiver of apprehension as it approaches this Saturday's crucial game against Romania in Bucharest. Not only will it be Wales's eighth consecutive away game, but with their match against Italy on 12 October it will settle the final seeding of the European zone countries and decide which World Cup pool they will end up in next May.

Wales desperately need to win both matches to play in the pool in which New Zealand and Ireland are seeded, because that will afford their best chance of advancing to the quarter-finals. As Alan Davies, the Welsh coach, said, thin air could be decisive in the hunt for rugby's Holy Grail: Pool C comprises New Zealand, Ireland, Asia and Europe 1, whose games will be played at altitude.

Europe 2 will be in a pool with England, Argentina and Western Samoa, which would not be the end of the world, but to finish as Europe 3 would put Wales into the 'kiss of death' pool, with Australia, South Africa and Canada.

Wales have played only two official internationals against Romania, in 1983 and 1988, and they lost both. Those of us who were in Bucharest in 1983 will never forget the incompetence of the Welsh performance; the humiliation of that 24-6 defeat was the beginning of the slide into the gutter of international rugby. The defeat at Cardiff in 1988 was similarly dispiriting. It marked Jonathan Davies's last appearance for Wales, as he turned professional largely because of disillusionment with the Welsh administration.

Wales will have no alibi if they fail to beat Romania, for this is their 11th international this year with two more to come against the Italians, who did so well in Australia, and against the Springboks. Davies has no illusions about the task they face.