Rugby Union: Welsh struggle past Romania

Wales A 36 Romania 21
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The Independent Online
Wales A 36

Romania 21

Club versus country? No contest. In a little under a fortnight, Sardis Road will be creaking under the weight of 10,000 passionate souls as Pontypridd go eyeball to eyeball with Bath in the opening skirmish of the Heineken European Cup. Last night, there was no danger of anyone being sardined to death, however; Ponty is a wonderful rugby town but the pulling power of the Welsh second team is not exactly of Oasis proportions.

Sadly, there will be no surge of new interest as a result of a curiously flat encounter. The Welsh, enthusiastic and profligate in equal measure, played in fits and starts and eventually allowed their frustration to boil over in a flurry of fists. Quite how Andrew Gibbs, the Llanelli flanker, escaped with a yellow card after punching seven bells out of Ovidiu Slusariuc, the Romanian captain, seven minutes from time, will remain one of life's little mysteries.

Around 3,000 spectators trudged dutifully down the steep hills overlooking one of the most warmly attractive grounds in Britain - not a bad attendance, in truth, for there would have been far fewer had the game been played along the road in Cardiff - and the Valleys diehards enjoyed instant gratification when Martyn Williams, one of four locals in the side, snaffled a typical loose forward's try on nine minutes, following the flight of a finely judged box kick from Matthew Lewis and falling on the ball when the bounce embarrassed Lucian Colceriu on the Romanian line.

Lee Davies, the Swansea full-back making his first appearance at this level, missed the conversion. Indeed, he had already endured all manner of indignities in the minutes leading up to Williams' score, severely underclubbing an opening shot at goal and then dropping his countrymen deep in the mire with a half-baked attempt to run from his own line, but he found the target with two penalties inside a minute to give his side an 11-point cushion.

Even at that early stage, it looked too much of a deficit for the tourists to handle. They were not without the odd smattering of class - Vasile Nedelcu looked more than capable as a middle jumper while Gheorghe Solomie's cultured distribution from inside centre was a joy to watch - but with Gibbs flexing his muscles in the loose and Gareth Wyatt justifying a growing reputation with some lightning-fast work on the right wing, there was a feel of one-way traffic to the proceedings.

That the Romanians were able to stay at the races was entirely due to Welsh hand-outs. Romeo Gontineac brushed Lewis aside with ease to score a soft try between the sticks and despite Wyatt's try on the stroke of half-time - more good work from Williams paved the way for his clubmate - another powder-puff defensive effort, this time from the unfortunate Davies four minutes after the break, allowed Solomie a straightforward canter to the left corner.

So it was that by hook or by crook, the Welsh reached the hour mark no more than five points ahead, Davies having kicked a third penalty to restore a semblance of order within six minutes of Solomie's score. Then came salvation, and not before time. The home forwards finally worked their way into threatening scrum positions and got enough things right to work Wyatt and Williams over for close-range tries on 60 and 65 minutes.

Still the tourists fancied their chances, however. Solomie crossed once more on 68 minutes following a rapid and elusive dart from Petre Mitu, the replacement full-back, and with the reliable Serban Guranescu obliging with the conversion, the gap was back down to 10 points.

It was the Welsh who had the final say, though. Gareth Llewellyn, a class act at the line-out but short of a gallop around the pitch, flopped over in the left corner for a captain's try two minutes into injury time to put some gloss on a distinctly matt occasion.

Wales A: Tries Williams 2, G Wyatt 2, Llewellyn; Conversion Davies; Penalties Davies 3. Romania: Tries Solomie 2, Gontineac; Conversions Guranescu 3.

WALES A: L Davies (Swansea); G Wyatt (Pontypridd), D James (Pontypridd), J Lewis (Pontypridd), N Walker (Cardiff); M Lewis (Bridgend), R Jones (Swansea); I Buckett (Swansea), R McBryde (Llanelli), C Anthony (Swansea), G Llewellyn (Harlequins, captain), N Watkins (Neath), A Gibbs (Llanelli), C Wyatt (Llanelli), M Williams (Pontypridd). Replacements: D Case (Neath) for Davies, 66; M Lloyd (Pontypridd) for Watkins, 75.

ROMANIA: V Maftei (Cluj Univ); I Rotaru (Dinamo), R Gontineac (Pau), G Solomie (Timisoara), L Colceriu (Steaua); S Guranescu (Dinamo), M Iacob (Dinamo); D Nicolae (Steaua), M Rodoi (Dinamo), A Salageanu (Dinamo), C Banescu (Albertville), V Nedelcu (Dinamo), F Corodeanu (Steaua), O Slusariuc (Dinamo, capt), E Septar (Farul Constanta). Replacements: P Mitu (Steaua) for Maftei, 9; G Vlad (Narbonne) for Nicolae, 40; T Branza (Narbonne) for Branescu, 55; C Stan (Dinamo) for Salageanu, 55; I Ruxanda (Farul Constanta) for Slusariuc, 79.

Referee: C White (London).