Communist collapse at root of Romanian struggles
September 26, 2007
Saturday's World Cup match between the All Blacks and Romania in Toulouse will be a stark contrast from their only other test rugby meeting 26 years ago.
New Zealand are expected to threaten 100 points in their final pool match, a far cry from the battle of the trenches Andy Dalton's test-hardened team fought out at the cavernous August 23 Stadium in Bucharest in 1981.
The scores were locked 3-3 at halftime before tries to hooker Dalton and centre Jamie Salmon quelled a Romanian team at the peak of their powers.
Funded massively by the communist government, rugby was booming there.
The eastern European upstarts developed quickly through the late 1970s and began a decade of success with a record 15-0 defeat of France at Bucharest in 1980, a result they were to repeat 10 years later.
In between They drew with Ireland and beat Scotland and Wales twice each, with the second Welsh win in 1988 coming in Cardiff.
However, the sport effectively collapsed when the regime of General Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989 in a bloody revolution.
Funding for the police and army-based clubs dried up and, in a symbolic incident, the captain of the team who won at Cardiff, Florica Murariu, was shot dead at a roadblock.
Romania produced some decent but sporadic results after the revolution but standards slowly dropped, talk of joining the Five Nations ended and most top players left for contracts in France and Italy.
Professionalism barely made an impact and their nadir came with a 134-0 humiliation at the hands of England in 2001.
With virtually no Romanian Rugby Union funding or corporate backers, the sport has leant heavily on France for stability.
Coach Daniel Santamans, a former Toulouse hooker, has been in charge since 2004 and has indicated The Oaks will enter a rebuilding phase next year, with many of his World Cup squad in their 30s.
This has been a difficult campaign, not helped by three key players being forced home with injury.
With an ounce more luck they could have beaten Italy at Marseille but went down 18-24. They followed that with a listless 0-42 loss to Scotland at Edinburgh and a late 14-10 win over minnows Portugal in Toulouse on Tuesday.
Two wins were targeted, which would have been their best return at any World Cup. They had competed at all five previous tournaments, getting one win in each except for the winless campaign of 1995.
Their game remains based around powerful set piece work and driving play, with lock Sorin Socol, loose forward Florin Corodeanu and hooker Marius Tincu their key contributors.
Captain Socol said it was important to keep their pride intact against the All Blacks.
"We have to do something important against New Zealand," he said.
"In 2003 we lost by 90 points against Australia. I think New Zealand will be harder than that match.
"I hope they don't win by more than 70 points."