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January 25, 2007

Italy and Romania followed up their opening qualifying wins with respective victories over Russia and Spain on Saturday 14 October to guarantee themselves places in Pool C of next year's Rugby World Cup. Graham Jenkins reports

Italy and Romania followed up their opening qualifying wins with respective victories over Russia and Spain on Saturday 14 October to guarantee themselves places in Pool C of next year's Rugby World Cup.

Italy became the seventh side to qualify for the 2007 showpiece with a convincing 67-7 result aganst Russia in Moscow and were closely followed by Romania, who overcame Spain 43-20 in Madrid.

Romania built on a 17-8 half time lead to overcome Spain 43-20 in Madrid with tries from Romeo Gontineac, Catalin Dascalu (2), Costica Mersoiu and Florin Vlaicu, who also slotted a penalty and five conversions, in addition to a penalty try. Spain's tries came from Rafael Alvarez, Cesar Sempere and Alvar Enciso with fly half Esteban Roque adding a penalty and a conversion.

By securing the first two European qualifying places, Italy and Romania go to France as Europe 1 and Europe 2 and will play in Pool C in France alongside 1987 Rugby World Cup Champions New Zealand, Scotland and Repechage 1. Italy will kick off its campaign against New Zealand in Marseille on 8 September, while Romania's first match is against the Italians on 12 September.

"It was extremely important for us to win this match," explained Italy Captain Marco Bortolami. "Russia proved to be tough opposition and we had to work hard. We are delighted to have qualified for Rugby World Cup 2007 in France and we can now look forward to preparing for the tournament through the November Tests and Six Nations."

There was an atmosphere of excitement at the Slava Stadium but the home side had no answer to a more physical and experienced Italy side. Russia will take a number of positives out of the game heading into the crucial remaining Pool A match against Portugal on 28 October. The winner of that match will then have the opportunity to qualify as Europe 3 via a home and away play-off against the runner-up in Pool B.

The result here was beyond doubt by half time after Italy had opened up a comfortable 39-0 lead with tries from Martin Castrogiovanni, Andrea Masi, Mirco Bergamasco and a brace from impressive winger Kaine Robertson.

Committed defence from the home side prevented the floodgates from opening in the second half, but even ferocious tackling and industrious forward play could not keep Pierre Berbizier's side from adding to their score.

Further tries came from captain Marco Bortolami, Mirco Bergamasco and replacement Pablo Canavosio (2) but the biggest roar of the day was reserved for home favourite Alexander Khrokin, who was driven over the Italy line after a well-executed lineout catch and drive.

Pic: Bernard Lapasset, President of the French Rugby Federation and of the RWC'07 organising committee, smiles as he poses next to the French rugby team symbol during a visit to a conference in Monaco.

"Our chances are still very much alive," said Russia coach Blikkies Groenewald. "Today we played a very good team, but there were indeed positives and we will not be disheartened. We can now look to the Portugal game as another opportunity to advance in qualifying."

The success of Italy and Romania means that all but four of the 20 places at next year's World Cup are taken.

The two sides join the automatic qualifiers (RWC 2003 quarter-finalists) England, Australia, New Zealand, France, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and Wales; plus those already qualified: Samoa (Oceania 1), Fiji (Oceania 2), Argentina (Americas 1), Canada (Americas 2) and USA (Americas 3).

In Pool A defending champions England and South Africa have been joined by Samoa and the USA with one side set to join them from the repechage rounds.

Australia and Wales have been joined in Pool B by Fiji and Canada with the winner of Asia's upcoming round-robin between Japan, Korea and Hong Kong to join them.

In Pool C Italy and Romania join New Zealand and Scotland with one more side to come from the repechage, while arguably the toughest pool of all, D, still awaits two teams. France, Ireland and Argentina will be joined by Europe 3 and the winner of the two-leg African final between Morocco and Namibia.

RWC'07 Pools:

Pool A: England, South Africa, Samoa, USA, Repechage 2
Pool B: Australia, Wales, Fiji, Canada, Asia 1
Pool C: New Zealand, Scotland, Italy, Romania, Repechage 1
Pool D: France, Ireland, Argentina, Europe 3, Africa 1

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