Romania eye two pool wins at World Cup

Paris (AFP) - The only way is up for Romania at this year's Rugby World Cup after a disastrous outing four years ago when the "Oaks" lost all four of their games in New Zealand, including a 25-9 humbling by east European rivals Georgia.

Ranked 17th in the world, Romania have this time been drawn in a tough Pool D, kicking off against France at the Olympic Stadium on September 23 before moving across London to play Ireland four days later at Wembley.

A run-out against Canada follows in Leicester on October 6, with the final pool game against Italy in Exeter on October 11.

For the first time in the history of Romania, once a burgeoning rugby-playing nation from the late 1970s through to the early 1990s before waning, foreign-born players have been included in the 31-man squad picked by their Welsh coach Lynn Howells and captained by giant forward Mihai Macovei, a recent Colomiers signing.

South African second row Johannes van Heerden and New Zealand-born fly-half Michael Wiringi are joined by two other naturalised Romanians, Georgian hooker Otar Turashvili and Tonga centre Paula Kinikilau.

The squad also includes a trio of players from France's Top 14 in Mihaita Lazar (Castres), Horatiu Pungea and Valentin Ursache (Oyonnax), whose experience of the elite French league will be invaluable in England.

"I hope that this World Cup will go down in the history of Romanian rugby by us winning two matches," said prop Lazar.

Two pool wins would guarantee a spot at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, but given their form coming into the competition, that goal could be optimistic although they managed to beat pool rivals Canada 18-9 in November.

In their warm-up matches, Romania were held 10-10 by English club side Yorkshire Carnegie before losing for the first time to Tonga, 21-16 in Bucharest.

Ever-present since the World Cup's inaugural tournament in 1987, Romania have only won five games in that time (defeating Zimbabwe, Fiji, the USA, Namibia and Portugal): a pool victory in the 1987, 1991, 1999, 2003 and 2007 tournaments with 1995 and 2011 being the exceptions.

Fly-half Florin Vlaicu is a reliable placekicker, bullocking No 8 Ovidiu Tonita is in his fourth World Cup, but Saracens-based full-back Catalin Fercu is the sole back playing outside Romania, and while the team will no doubt have a strong front-row, there are questions marks elsewhere.

"First of all, we fixed a performance-related goal in how we play in our matches," said Romanian federation president Hari Dumitras.

"We want to show that we're a testing rival by putting in some good matches. Then I think that we have a chance against Italy and that we can beat Canada.

"Winning two matches is an ambitious goal but I think it's doable. It's also more important because it will ensure an automatic qualification for the 2019 World Cup."