Saturday 12 October 2013 – 3.00pm (1pm UK time)
Stadium Arcul de Triumf
Amlin Challenge Cup Pool 3 #1
The opening game of the Falcons’ return to the Challenge Cup sees our first trip behind the old Iron Curtain to Romania, the land of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu and football legend Gheorghe Hagi.
After years of waiting, I was chuffed when the Falcons and Bucharest Wolves came out of the hat together in this competition, but circumstances dictate that I’ll not be over in Romania tomorrow, but going to France on Sunday ahead of next week’s game in Brive. Not a bad alternative.
Although Romania and indeed Romanians do not always enjoy the best reputation with foreigners, not least due to the idea that it is citizens of that country that can often be found begging at tourist attractions or stealing from cashpoints, the crime rate is quite low in Bucharest in comparison to many other capital cities. London could only dream about having 11 murders in a year, as Bucharest did in 2007. Reviews talk about a beautiful and vibrant city that is growing out of Communism and into the future.
The Wolves’ ground is the Stadium Arcul de Triumf, home of the national side and an arena that opened way back in 1914, though it was renovated and expanded just recently and now has a capacity of 5,500. Alongside rugby games, it has hosted concerts by the like of Limp Bizkit, The Cranberries and Eric Clapton.
Bucharest are coached by Romania national manager and former Wales caretaker boss Lynn Howells. Last season saw the select side win two matches in Pool 4 of this tournament, the same as they managed in 2011/12 when Banca Monte Crociati of Italy were downed twice by the eastern Europeans. Indeed going back through tables of previous seasons in this competition, I cannot find a time when a Romanian side has lost all six pool games, so the Falcons (and probably especially Calvisano) had better beware.
A year ago, Bucharest were downed 17-40 by Bath at the Arcul de Triumf, before a 42-27 home win over Calvisano, ironically. Our hosts play both of their October games at home to avoid extreme weather in eastern Europe in January, when they will play two away games. Of course is the other way round for the Falcons.
In a stunning upset in round three last season, Agen lost in Bucharest 25-22, though they got their revenge in France a week later with a 39-9 romp. January saw the campaign wrap up with a 34-20 defeat at Calvisano and a pounding at Bath, who took top spot in the group by winning 53-8.
As I said, the Wolves are a select side made up of players from across Romania’s top clubs, and will apparently be replaced by an actual club, not sure who but it may be champions Timisoara. They don’t really have any big names in this year’s squad, although Sosene Anesi one cap All Black does play for Timisoara.
The ERC site lists several internationals in the squad including number eight Razvan Ailenei, 54-cap centre Csaba Gal and wings Ionut Dumitru and Stephan Hihetah, as well as full-back Florin Vlaicu, who has played in two World Cups. Johan Van Heerden, not really a Romanian name, has ambitions to play for the national side according to this interview published in March.
Alex Crockett captains the Falcons on his first start of the season, in a team that includes debutants Sean Brown and Harrison Collins. George McGuigan gets a first start in a Falcons shirt and Fraser McKenzie and Sean Tomes are drafted into the second row. Chris Pilgrim and Joel Hodgson are the half-back pairing.
Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Ryan Shortland, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Alex Crockett (c), 11 Sean Brown, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Chris Pilgrim, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 5 Sean Tomes, 6 Chris York, 7 Mark Wilson, 8 Harrison Collins.
Replacements: 16 Kieran Brookes, 17 Gary Strain, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Dom Barrow, 20 James Fitzpatrick, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Noah Cato.
So it seems that Dean Richards has picked a team that is aimed at winning while giving some younger and fringe players a run-out – a sensible policy. Hopefully the job will get done with no injuries and we can then look forward to Brive.
Oh, and remember tomorrow’s game is at 1pm UK time, if you’re intending listening on the radio.
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)