Friday 21 October 2016

Jack McGrath: We have to be on our toes with Romania and we won't take them lightly

The Irish front five have to be ready for real war

Romania's prop Paulica Ion (centre left) and France's prop Uini Atonio (centre right) vie for the ball with teammates during their Pool D match at the Olympic stadium in London on Wednesday
Romania's prop Paulica Ion (centre left) and France's prop Uini Atonio (centre right) vie for the ball with teammates during their Pool D match at the Olympic stadium in London on Wednesday
Ireland's Jack McGrath speaks to the media

You could understand why playing Romania might come a poor second to playing at Wembley Stadium.

The home of English football has left many indelible childhood memories for the Irish.

They are all there locked up tight in the backroom of our minds from what came to be known as Liam Brady's 'five-minute' FA Cup final in 1979 to the night Niall Quinn's deft finish earned Jack Charlton's a 1-all draw with England in the 1992 European qualification campaign.

Then, not so famously, there was Ireland's stunning 29-23 victory over their hosts Wales back in 1999 at a time when The Millennium Stadium was being redeveloped.

The key to Ireland's fortune that day was the stellar front-five play of great agitator Peter Clohessy, Keith Wood, a try-scorer, and cornerstone Paul Wallace as well as those tall Ulster towers Paddy Johns and Jeremy Davidson.

Fast-forward 16 years, Ireland will look to numbers one-to-five to provide the foundations for a win over Romania that will keep the truck rolling onwards towards Italy on Sunday week.

It was a sad reality of what coach Lynn Howells' players showed against France that they had next to no threat in the wide channels.

While rugby has undergone a terrific transformation since the turn of the century, Romania have stood still from the 1980s, even rapidly regressed as their playing numbers have dwindled and their status has plummeted.

It is difficult to believe they struck fear into the mighty French as recently as the 1980s.

The cruel Nicolae Ceaucescu communist regime from the mid-1960s backed rugby in the Balkan country as an outward expression of Romanian pride and success.

It made enough of an impact that they were even close to joining the then-Five Nations in the 1980s.

However, the revolution triggered the destruction of Romanian rugby as more than 300 players departed for life as professionals in France.

Where Romania once stood, Italy have moved into the breach.

Thus, the South-Eastern Europeans have struggled to return to their glory days and to deal with the scatter of players, like props Paulica Ion to Perpignan and Mihaita Lazar to Castres Olympique.

This is one of their few positions of real strength.

The reserve prop Horatiu Pungea, once of The Scarlets, played 23 times for Lyon in the Top-14 last season and has transferred to Oyonnax in what is a move up the French ladder.

Georgian-born hooker Otar Turashvili has moved to Colomiers this season to join Romania's captain Mihai Macovei, an outstanding lineout operator and hard carrier.

It was the front row that caused untold damage for France in the scrum on Wednesday and number eight Macovei troubled their lineout with his athleticism and work at the tail.

This all increases the responsibility for Ireland's stability on the chosen front row and the lineout caller, whether it will be Donnacha Ryan or Devin Toner.

"That's their number one go-to thing," noted loose-head Jack McGrath.

"With Lazar, Pungea and Ion, guys all playing in the French league, they're pretty experienced.

"We have to be switched on," he warned.

"They're used to coming up against guys that are as equally big and strong scrummagers."

This took McGrath down the route of making a direct and fair comparison with a country once covered by the umbrella of the former Soviet Union

"It's like the Georgians. It's their make-up," he added. "They're big men and they take massive pride in their scrum and I just suppose it's a thing we have to be wary of this weekend."

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