Rugby Union: Welsh wing in on a note of prayer: Romanians fail to capitalise on their possession

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Romania. . . . . . . . . . . . .9

Wales . . . . . . . . . . . . .16

BEING charitable, you might say Wales have suffered such embarrassment from Romania and their ilk that simply to have won their World Cup ranking match could be viewed as an achievement. Anyway, this is how they would prefer to see it.

Scotland as well as Wales have lost here in recent memory (England won 58-3), so to have come up with a victory that has pleasing implications for next year's World Cup finals is a cause for gladness if not outright jubilation. The performance was something else, though, and if repeated in South Africa - or even against Italy next month - would be ruinous.

Before a few thousand people in a cavernous stadium with a capacity of 86,000, Wales overcame not only blazing sun and 93F heat but also a stomach virus which severely weakened both props as well as the captain, Ieuan Evans. No surprise, then, that Alan Davies, the Wales coach, had wanted an evening kick-off. 'You shouldn't play rugby in those conditions: they are potentially life- threatening,' he suggested.

These are excuses which do not quite explain why Wales, the Five Nations champions after all, were so thoroughly outplayed for so much of the game. Tiberiu Brinza, the Romanian captain, was either joking or mistranslated when he said: 'Wales showed us what a great side is all about.' In fact if Romania had had the slightest idea of how to put to use their vast superiority in possession, the result would have been as mortifying for Wales as the 24-6 defeat the last time they played in Bucharest, 11 years ago.

That it was not was also down to the stubbornness under assault of the Welsh defence. In the bad old days of three or four years ago, they would very likely have capitulated, but their fragile predecessors seldom had the advantage of so helpful a referee as David McHugh, whose distaste for the Romanians was such that in the second half he penalised them more or less every time they reached the Welsh 22.

This was one way of getting the ball. Otherwise, Wales managed to win without it, or at least not much of it. Most obviously, the Welsh line-out was obliterated by the towering Romanians, so badly that there now seems no alternative to introducing the 6ft 10in Derwyn Jones and hoping he has the attitude to go with his altitude.

The solidity of the Welsh scrum was a contrast but of small practical benefit. From the line-out, Romania attacked in waves through their back row and ended up tryless only because their scrum-half kept turning back inside, and either their outside-half or inside centre incessantly kicked when they should have passed.

Whenever Romania did gulp and take the bolder option, Wales were in far more trouble than they ever were defending Neculai Nichitean's and Nicolae Fulina's kicks, though the inaccuracy of the Romanian handling betrayed a patent unfamiliarity with the wider game. They, like everyone else, talk about it but seldom actually adopt it.

Thus Viorel Morariu, the Romanian rugby federation president, said: 'It was a mistake to play too much forward rugby. We must use our wings more.' But he then backtracked as soon as it was suggested Romania might therefore be willing to open things up against Italy in the next ranking match on 1 October.

The Welsh might have said much the same as Morariu. Not that they played too much forward rugby - on the contrary, their forwards won too little of the ball for that - but that having seen the potency of their wing-play in Evans's try at the end of the first half, they did not attempt to repeat it.

Still, the try was something to savour, both for the brilliance of its execution and because it was Evans's 21st for Wales, exceeding the record he had previously held with Gerald Davies and Gareth Edwards. Wales attacked from a scrum fairly deep in their own territory and their enterprise was rewarded when Emyr Lewis and Richie Collins combined to put Rupert Moon through a gap with Evans on his outside.

The Wales captain, a yard or two inside Romania's half when he received the ball, cut outside Fulina's feeble tackle and when he scored was kneed in the back by the other Romanian centre, Nicolae Racean. The result was a 10- point try, Neil Jenkins not only converting but then landing the penalty that McHugh immediately awarded at halfway.

As it transpired, it was a decisive turn-about. Romania had led through Nichitean's first penalty and recovered to 9-10 when the stand- off added two more. Their control was such that there was no logical reason why this process should not have continued but finally it was two more penalties, not by Nichitean but by Jenkins, that settled the game.

'The victory was more important than the try,' Evans said. In bald World Cup terms this is so, since the one remaining hurdle between Wales and their desired first-round pool with New Zealand and Ireland in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein is their game against Italy in Cardiff on 12 October.

'I'm sure we'll play a lot better,' Evans said. 'It's not a question that we'll need to. We will play better.' Quite why he is so confident is not immediately clear - certainly not on Saturday's evidence. But Wales have now played eight consecutive away Test matches and after travelling from Twickenham to Bucharest via Lisbon, Madrid, Toronto, Suva, Nuku'alofa and Apia the least they deserve is a taste of home.

Romania: Penalties Nichitean 3. Wales: Try I Evans; Conversion Jenkins; Penalties Jenkins 3.

ROMANIA: V Brici (Farul Constanta); L Colceriu (Steaua Bucharest), N Racean (Cluj University), N Fulina (Farul Constanta), G Solomie (Timisoara University); N Nichitean (Cluj University), D Neaga (Dinamo Bucharest); G Leonte (Vienne), G Ion (Dinamo Bucharest), G Vlad (Grivita Bucharest), S Ciorascu (Auch), C Cojocariu (Bayonne), T Oroian (Steaua Bucharest), T Brinza (Cluj University, capt), A Guranescu (Dinamo Bucharest). Replacements: C Draguceanu (Steaua Bucharest) for Brinza, 63; C Stan (Grivita Bicharest) for Leonte, 71.

WALES: M Rayer (Cardiff); I Evans (Llanelli, capt), M Hall (Cardiff), N Davies, W Proctor (Llanelli); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Moon; R Evans (Llanelli), G Jenkins (Swansea), J Davies (Neath), P Davies (Llanelli), Gareth Llewellyn (Neath), H Taylor, E Lewis (Cardiff), R Collins (Pontypridd).

Referee: D McHugh (Ireland).

(Photograph omitted)

Comments