It’s a bit strange to look back at this same fixture just two years ago, with the Eagles coming out on top by 31 points. Then you recall the circumstances. Leighton Hodges was the referee, and will be again. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything except lots of whistles and a high chance of cards appearing. Romania were poor, and looked more intent on scrapping than playing rugby. Vasile Rus and John Quill were sent off, and Cosmin Ratiu binned. The Eagles were playing decent rugby, with Toby L’Estrange in good form and Paul Emerick still blasting about in the centres. Shawn Pittman and Eric Fry were the props, and Scott LaValla was moved to lock to accommodate both Quill and Peter Dahl on the flanks. Luke Hume was on the left wing, and Chris Wyles was at fullback.
Of those players, only Quill remains, and it’s a tough sell to say their replacements are upgrades. Nick Wallace and Olive Kilifi have been hammered in the scrum at every turn, and will be up against one of the top units in Europe. Tai Tuisamoa and Matt Trouville are bigger than LaValla and Dahl, but are very green at this level despite their age. For Trouville this will be his first ever senior international, and the learning curve is steep.
Seamus Kelly looked lost at sea against the All Blacks and he will be desperate to put in a performance against the hugely experienced but considerably less potent Romanian midfield. One thing he might consider doing often is passing the ball to his outside backs. Tim Stanfill and Taku Ngwenya, back after a 14 month break from international rugby, are as fast a duo as one could hope for, and Folau Niua is no slouch either. If the game is to be won by the Americans, the sprinters need to see the ball early and often. There’s no sense having flyers if they never see the ball.
Some interesting names lie in waiting on the bench. Benjamin Tarr is included as prop cover, with fellow Australian Greg Peterson ready to lock out the scrum. John Cullen covers both the second and back rows, and Kyle Sumsion can consider himself unlucky that he isn’t starting ahead of Quill on the flank. The extra forward tells you that Mike Tolkin expects a forwards battle, which is a very good assumption. Roland Suniula has answered an emergency beacon to join his brothers in the squad after Troy Hall was deemed ineligible for some silly reason.
The Romanians had a terrific year in 2013, dropping only 1 of 11 matches, and have fared pretty well this year aside from losses to Georgia and Emerging Ireland. They feature 7 players with 50 or more caps, and aside from flanker Valentin Ursache and maybe a couple wingers they are virtually at full strength. Their game plan is no secret. Smash it up the middle, kick to the corners, play tight defense and bait the other team into making mistakes. It’s not particularly exciting but it works for them.
Up front is where the most damage will be done. Paulică Ion and Mihai Lazăr are both top flight professional props, and the same goes for reserves Andrei Ursache and the massive Horaţiu Pungea. They will be hell bent on driving the American scrum into the dirt. Alin Coste and Marius Sirbe are two excellent lineout options, with more help from any of the back row if required. It’s going to take some effort for the Eagles to get good ball off first phase possession.
Asking the Americans to play expansive rugby with a lineup that isn’t really suited for it doesn’t leave a lot of hope for a victory. If Mike Petri and Adam Siddall are asked to hoof it down the pitch they might find themselves right back where they kicked it from via the dancing feet of Cătălin Fercu. If they can adapt quickly and get the ball wide, they have a chance. If not, Florin Vlaicu’s goal kicking will be front and centre and in a shoot out there will only be one winner. Take Romania to win by 9.
ROMANIA vs UNITED STATES
Saturday, November 8, 16:30 GMT, Bucharest
Referee: Leighton Hodges (WRU)
Assistants: Ian Davies (WRU) & Neil Hennessy (WRU)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (IRFU)