More than thirty years ago my father was starting his junior career as a fly-half at Viitorul Sacele, a minor league rugby union team from Romania.
Last week we drove up to King Power Stadium in Leicester to see our side take on Canada in Pool D of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Here is a photo of us before the game began:
It was truly a life-changing experience for me and an emotional rollercoaster for my father. In the end, Romania delivered the greatest comeback in world cup history by overcoming a 15 point difference to win in the last two minutes of the game.
The sheer and unfiltered happiness of the Romanian players was broadcasted around the world.
After the final whistle, could be seen crying and visibly shaken while others were dancing and taking photographs with the Romanian flag.
They thanked the crowd numerous times and stayed on the field for probably another 30-40 minutes celebrating their victory.
The rise and fall (and rise) of Eastern European rugby
Perhaps some of you reading this remember the 1980s and what those years represented for rugby union in Romania. The Romanian national team recorded several wins against Wales (twice – 1983: 24 – 6 in Romania, 1988: 15–9 in Wales), Scotland (the 1984 Grand Slam side 28 – 22 in Romania), France (twice 1980: 15 – 0 in Romania, 1982: 13 – 9 in Romania) and drew with Ireland (13–13, in 1980, at Dublin). In 1981, they lost to the All Blacks 14–6 but had two tries disallowed.
In 1984, the Romanian rugby union federation counted more than 12,000 players and 110 clubs.
Today there are less than 3,000 registered players in Romania and only a few clubs have survived.
Many would rightfully ask what happened. In the 1990s and early 2000s Romanian rugby union went through an existential crisis mostly due to lack of funding. Despite these hardships, the Romanian team persevered and managed to qualify for every World Cup – and even won at least one game at each event (except for 1995.)
Time for a change
This year’s edition of the World Cup saw some exciting games, including the heroic Japan win against South Africa and the hard-fought Welsh victory over England.
However, many have overlooked one important aspect. Ten years ago, most Tier 2 teams were seen as a way for the big league squads to score some much-needed bonus points that would push them at the top of the group.
Not so much this time around.
In Pool C, Georgia played incredibly well against New Zealand and dominated Tonga. Pool D saw Romania holding out quite well against France and Ireland, while Canada gave Italy quite a scare. Furthermore, teams like Namibia, USA and Samoa also offered decent and (more importantly) consistent performances.
The evidence presented above brings me to my point: if European rugby is to remain competitive at the international level, it needs to evolve and grow beyond the big Six Nations.
This is why I’ve started a petition asking the organizers of the Six Nations Championship to open it up by creating a 5+1 system based on a fair system of relegation and promotion.
Sign the petion now and make your voice heard.
This would give an immense opportunity to countries like Romania, Georgia, Portugal or Russia to strenghten their national teams for the World Cup and other international competitions. It would also add a twist to the somewhat stale RBS 6 Nations current format, increasing competitiveness amongst the established teams and thus leading to more exciting games and increased audiences worldwide.
If you really care about the future of rugby union, you should sign this petition and spread the word.
Together, we can change the face of European rugby and make our voices heard.