Antim Cup battle illustrates gulf in class
Clive Barker
February 7, 2007

As the auld enemy were tussling at Twickenham over the Calcutta Cup, Romania and Georgia were competing in Bucharest for the Antim Cup.

While the trophy may lack the prestige or glamour of the competition it is unashamedly modelled upon, for the combatants the match itself is just as important.

Six months before the World Cup Europe's two leading amateur unions were out to show that they were ready to take on the world; individually and as representatives of the 45 European unions who lie below the big six in Europe.

Winning in France is for neither the objective. Rather, being seen to be competitive at the highest level; and so boosting their profile. The European Nations Cup opening match in Bucharest was therefore an important and interesting indicator for both of where they stand.

In front of enthusiastic, if small, crowd the visitors recorded a 17-20 victory and so took the the trophy back to the Black Sea for only the second time in six attempts.

More importantly, both sides showed they still have a lot of work to do before September.

The Antim Cup is named after an eighteenth century Georgian monk who lived and worked in Romania and the cup is intended to define the combined struggles and fates of the two unions.

For both the brave, hopeful, years after the collapse of the Soviet block quickly melted amid the economic reality of rugby without a planned economy.

With the national leagues not able to afford full time wages the top players went overseas to earn their keep, and so the quality of domestic rugby fell even further.

From the 44 players listed for this particular match, 37 play in various French divisions. In the main it is the younger bucks who are still at home - that is at home awaiting a professional contract abroad.

All involved accept that they are in a vicious circle where without a strong domestic league they cannot hope to attract the public to raise the finances to pay the players full time wages to develop the national league.

For the Antim Cup match only around 1000 fans came through the gates, and that with free entry.

"What we really need is a win against a big team," commented Florin Campean, marketing manager for the Romanian Federation. "Preferably one from the top 10. That will then give us the jolt we need to regain public interest," he added, summing up the feeling on both sides."

For many Romanians the ideal time would be against Italy in Marseille this September. On this performance however they are a long, long way from that.

On a cold, dank Bucharest Saturday, both sides wanted, and tried, to play open running rugby. They simply couldn't. Not just the final ball was lacking but all to often it was the third from last that went astray.

Georgia's half time lead of 6-13 came thanks to a scrappy pushover try, and was probably just about deserved.

In the second half the spectators in the city's Steaua Stadium were brought briefly to their feet by sweeping open play from the hosts, however in the main it was meagre fair and a dour match.

Both sides midfield's flowed as freely as the traffic in Bucharest and neither attack showed any sign of real imagination. The scrappy play saw a couple of needless fights, the consequence of one thrown fist resulting in Georgian lock Elizbarashvili being taking to hospital for precautionary x-rays on a head injury.

The tight nature of the Steaua pitch meant that play had to held up while the ambulance drove down the pitch to collect him from the touch line.

Tellingly the media ruck around the ambulance as he was carried in, was probably the best formed of the afternoon. Otherwise the second half produced a try a piece, both close range lunges after short rucks, and the Georgians won the match, in the end, fairly comfortably.

Romania and Georgia are the most vocal in demands to open up European rugby. And the most impatient.

As the two nations who have been banging loudest on the elite door Romania and Georgia see the Six Nations structure as the biggest impediment to the development of the game within Europe and are demanding change.

Change however can only come from the professional unions and at the moment there is no support for change. Therefore the amateurs will need to keep trying to prove their credentials. In this respect the World Cup match between Italy and Romania will be especially interesting - how big is the gap between the weakest professional union and the strongest amateur union? And just as importantly how big would it be if the Romanian union had access to the same resources as the Italian?

Both Romania and Georgia know that if they want to impress in France they will have to produce their very best. They now have a realistic idea of what they have to improve.

They also know that if they disappoint in France it will mean a further four years in the international rugby wilderness. Something neither has earned nor can afford.

Romania: 17
Try: Petre
DG: Tofan
Pens: Vlaicu (3)

For Georgia: 20
Tries: Guiorgadze, Udessiani
Cons: Kvirikashvili (2)
Pens: Kvirikashvili (2)

15 Paliko Jimsheladze, 14 Gosha Shkinini, 13 Rezo Guigauri, 12 Irakli Guiorgadze, 11 Irakli Machkaneli, 10 Meko Kvirikashvili, 9 Irakli Abusseridze, 8 Besso Udessiani, 7 Mamuka Magrakvelidze, 6 Ilia Maissuradze, 5 Levan Datunashvili, 4 Ilia Zedguinidze, 3 David Zirakashvili, 2 Akvsent Guiorgadze, 1 David Khinchaguishvili
Replacements: 16 Avtandil Kopaliani, 17 David Gasviani, 18 Victor Didebulidze, 19 George Chkhaidze, 20 Bidzina Samkharadze, 21 David Katcharava, 22 George Elizbarashvili

15 Florin Vlaicu, 14 Catalin Fercu, 13 Gabriel Brezoianu, 12 Romeo Gontineac, 11 Cristian Sauan, 10 Ionut Tofan, 9 Lucian Sarbu, 8 Costica Mersoiu, 7 Mihai Macovei, 6 Florin Corodeanu, 5 Cristian Petre, 4 Sorin Socol, 3 Petrisor Toderasc, 2 Marius Tincu, 1 Petru Balan.
Replacements: 16 Cezar Popescu, 17 Razvan Mavrodin, 18 Ion Paulica, 19 Valentin Ursache, 20 Valentin Calafateanu, 21 Csaba Gal, 22 Iulian Dumitras

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