? IT remains one of sport’s terrible ironies, how the arrival of a political revolution ruined the prospects of a rugby one. Twenty-six years ago, Romania – as a rugby nation – was thriving.
A year previously, they had travelled to the Arms Park and returned home with Wales’ scalp. A year later, they beat France in Auch, their eighth victory over the country who had taught them the game, but significantly, their first on French soil.
And it wasn’t a fluke. Romania, in the 1980s, and early years of the nineties, was the closest thing rugby has ever had to a rebellion, coming seemingly from nowhere to the stage where, in a four-year spell between 1980 and 1984, they were drawing in Dublin with Ireland, beating Wales, Scotland and, on two occasions, France, while, in 1981, New Zealand escaped with an eight-point win in a game where Romania had two tries disallowed.
Politics stood in the way of Romania’s progress [Picture: Inpho]
“They were an unbelievably good side,” said Jonathan Davies, the former Welsh captain. “When we lost to them in 1983, I remember looking at their pack and thinking, ‘O God, we’re in trouble’.”
He was right. The Romanians won 24-6 that day – a year before they defeated the Grand Slam winning Scots in Bucharest, fuelling speculation they’d be invited to join the Five Nations. Some chance. In the political climate of the day, neither their location behind the Iron Curtain nor their ‘shamateur’ status sat well with the snobbish conservatives running the world game.
“When the rest of the rugby world was amateur, we were professional, now rugby is professional we are completely amateur,” the former Romanian captain, Alin Petreache, said back in 2003.
At that stage, everything had fallen apart. Nicole Ceausescu – the country’s hated former dictator – was dead but so were six of Romania’s starting XV, killed in combat during the 1989 revolution. With that, the dream of becoming a global superpower was also buried, the finance supplied by the Ceausescu regime drying up in the aftermath of the revolution.