When the Scotland team to face Italy was announced Andy Robinson said “Italy will prove ideal opponents ahead of our opening Rugby World Cup matches against Romania and Georgia.”
For most of us we will have to take Robinson at his word. Who really knows much about Romania and Georgia?
The midlevel teams in World rugby get very little coverage and if we were to be told that these countries are steadily improving it would still have little impact on our lives. The assumption is that games against these teams would be an easy win, so there is no desire to track their pre-World Cup progress. Watching Wales scrape a pack together to play Argentina at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday will be more interesting to most.
However, failure to prepare is preparing to be embarrassed on a World scale. Just ask the Irish. In Bordeux in 2007’s World Cup the Irish sauntered into a game with Georgia and were promptly slammed for their troubles.
On that occasion Brian O’Driscoll led his team against an opponent no one had paid any credence, so when the forwards easily matched the green pack and probed away at Ireland’s line as Kvirikashvili slotted kicks it was a hard shift to save Irish reputations. The game ended at an uneasy 14-10 in Ireland’s favour, and we learned to underestimate the minnows at our peril.
Fast forward to 2011 and we all seem to have reset to a default position of underrating these teams, again.
Could you name who Romania and Georgia are warming up against? Do you know who their coaches are? Have you taken heed of their recent results?
In truth I had to research these questions myself. However, what I did learn gave me reason to expect we will need a physical outing this weekend to prepare ourselves for the opening games of the RWC.
While we want to shatter our try scoring record against Italy at the same time as hoping Wales completely demolish Argentina, the Romanians will be facing off against the Ukraine in Lviv as part of the European Nations matches. Even more mysterious to us than this is the fact that Georgia have been playing a series of training matches, behind closed doors, against a few Top 14 sides in France.
The upshot of this is that we know Romania are likely to be building confidence, playing similar teams that are not at the World Cup and who haven’t been locked in a gruelling regime of fitness and study for weeks. Georgia, perhaps more frighteningly, have been hardening themselves for battle under cover.
We must, in order to fully understand these teams, align this news with the established results they have accrued of late. Put things into perspective and assess what they are working with.
Romania may have hammered Spain 64-8 in March, but in that same month they lost out to the Georgians 18-11 and in June were defeated in an International competition by Argentina Jaguars (the second string) and Provincial side the South African Kings.
They have recently officially slid up to 17th in the World, but they have a huge fight on to retain that spot and to show up well against Scotland. Having answered a few questions myself I know that they have some players capable of scaring us in Ovidiu Toniţa and Marius Tincu, both of Perpignan, and London Irish prop Ion. They also have a second row perhaps familiar to some in Valentin Ursache, but their backline is made up of players competing at home or in the lowly leagues of France.
Their coach is a Romania, Romeo Gontineac, who has played at 4 World Cups himself. He is assisted by former All Black Prop turned fitness coach Steve McDowall who won the Cup in ’87. Being competitive, it must be said, will be the goal of these men.
For Georgia, however, we see a more formidable prospect.
In November 2010 Georgia beat Canada and the USA. In March they beat Russia and Romania. In June they beat the Jaguars and Namibia. Now they are grappling with the best of the rest in France and being told how much they hate Scotland, England and Argentina. They even have the added motivation of slipping from 15th to 16th in the World through no fault of their own.
In short: Georgia worry me.
They have 10 or so players in, or just underneath, the French Top 14. Almost all are in the pack. On top of this the Georgians are being put through their paces in camp by Harlequins’ Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Gareth Adamson. The strings are being pulled by Head Coach Richie Dixon. That’s former Borders and Scotland coach Richie Dixon.
Yes, Andy, Italy will be a good physical test before Romania and Georgia. Let’s hope the Italians don’t read this blog because I want them to play like Argentina and Robinson wants them like Romania and Georgia. As I’m expecting attrition against either of the great Eastern rivals, Italy have to choose between digging in or hoisting up kicks.
Scotland could be facing four physical games in a row. It is the medical staff I feel for…