Why Romania will miss the 2019 Rugby World Cup

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OFFENBACH, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 11: Mihai Lazar of Romania discusses with team mates during the European Shield Rugby match between Germany and Romania at Sparda-Bank-Hessen-Stadion on February 11, 2017 in Offenbach, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Romanian rugby is in trouble. Northampton Saints supporters will affirm that, following their recent Challenge Cup trip to Timosoara Saracens. The game could not take place due to weather, so the Saints were awarded a 28-0 win and the Romanians fined EUR30000.

But it is the problems with the national side that are the most concerning right now. An online petition led by the Romania Rugby Club 16 supporters club put the blame squarely at the door of the Romanian Rugby Federation.

A number of prominent figures from Romanian Rugby have spoken to Last Word on Rugby to reveal what is going wrong.

Romanian Rugby National team in crisis

Things appeared to be on the up for Romania. This reporter was in Leicester when the Oaks recorded the biggest ever World Cup comeback against Canada in 2015. They then overturned Georgia’s dominance to win the Rugby Europe international Championship [Europe’s second tier competition] in 2016/17, and in 2018. Consequently Georgia’s claim to enter the Six Nations was greatly diminished.

From here, it has all gone wrong for Romanian Rugby.

Disqualification from the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Winning the Rugby Europe International Championship meant World Cup qualification. That was, until the Stejarii were docked 30 points for fielding an ineligible player. An administrative error then, has cost the national team their quadrennial spot on the world stage.

Mircea Paraschiv, former captain of the national team, says: “Romanian rugby is going through a great tragedy. Not participating at the Japan World Cup is due to objective reasons and, to this day, those responsible have given no explanation whatsoever. On the contrary, they are trying to associate themselves with the names of great personalities in the Romanian rugby in order to escape this deadlock”.

Paraschiv, the only player member of the World Rugby Hall of Fame, added: “It is sad that the President of FRR Petrache, after 9 years of mandate in which he has not undertaken anything for rugby, has associated himself with impostors who don’t want at all the best for the Romanian rugby. A new management is needed to reassess the values of the Romanian rugby and to urgently start a national programme to revive our rugby.”

Lack of Young Talent Promotion

The ineligible player in question leading to the disqualification was Sione Faka’osilea; he had previously played for the Tonga Sevens team. This has highlighted the issue of bringing in players from abroad, an ever-controversial point in World Rugby.

Valentin Ursache, a veteran of three World Cups and current captain of US Oyonnax, feels strongly on this topic: 

“By the decision of the current federal management to bring foreign players to Romania and to naturalize many of them so as to be eligible for the national team, whose spirit of cohesion has disappeared, something has irreversibly broken within the group of players and in the end the rugby fans have distanced themselves more and more from the national team.

Today, the Romanian rugby is in the toughest moment of its existence of over 100 years, and without a national programme for promoting rugby, this extraordinary sport will disappear very soon.”

Current Test captain Mihai Macovei agrees. He says: 

“A strong “revival” is needed, and also people coming and suggesting viable projects for minimum four-five years, particularly in the juvenile sector.”

“Today, the Romanian rugby is in the toughest moment of its existence, from all points of view”.

Clearly then, the playing squad is in a poor place. This requires some management to step in and boost morale and restore pride in Romanian Rugby once more.

Romanian rugby is at a crossroads

Since Romanian Rugby has never faced the prospect of no World Cup participation, there is a chance for introspection and self-evaluation. Mihai Lazar, currently of Grenoble and Top14 winner with Castres laments: 

“The year 2018 means, beside the terrible disappointment related to the disqualification of the national team, a lot of humiliation. Romanian rugby is at a crossroads. Today, so that rugby should not disappear permanently, new people are needed, profoundly involved in extending the selection basis at juvenile level. This is the only way forward.”

Tony Pisaroglu, Former Romanian national rugby 7s player agrees: “These are the first truly sad holidays in the long history of the Romanian rugby, due to not participating for the first time at the Rugby World Cup 2019 (our national rugby team was the only team in the Romanian sport that had qualified uninterruptedly to rugby’s greatest feast, the World Cup) for reasons of bad management”.

The Solution?

Pisaroglu is clear on how Romanian rugby can be turned around.

“The time for diplomacy has passed, the problems of Romanian rugby cannot be solved with the same strategy and leadership of the federation, its members have been in this position for more than 9 years and have used this great sport only for their personal benefit, the result being this disaster.

President Alin Petrache and the management team must leave their positions very quickly, it is the only way the Romanian rugby will have a chance for rehabilitation.

We have been raised by this great sport with values and principles, and all the lessons taught by it have guided us not only in the rugby field, but also in our lives. This sport is not just about points, wins and awards, it has helped young people regardless of their social backgrounds and has built characters since 1823.

I am one of the children that this amazing phenomenon has helped and I feel obliged to take this position, thinking of those children who through this sport have a chance to a better life.

We need new strategies aligned with IRB standards and new people who understand international business practice, who understand the dynamics of rugby development, who have experience in international business and sport and who understand the reality of Romanian rugby.”  

Towards the 2023 Rugby World Cup

If a Tier One nation were in this same situation, there is little doubt the same sort of noises would be made. However that such important current figures, such as the team captain and leading players would speak out so candidly highlights the strong feelings and importance placed on the national rugby team.

The 2018 Autumn International defeats to the USA and Uruguay also show there is a long way back for the Stejarii. 

Last Word on Rugby thanks all contributors to this article for providing valuable insights and honest opinion. 

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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