Key Clash Preview: England v Romania

Martin Johnson’s men begin the second half of their Pool B campaign against Romania on Saturday following what has been a fairly timid start to the tournament. Last week they followed up a tough game against Argentina with an error-strewn performance against Georgia so have good reason to silence the critics with a dominant display against the Oaks.

Date: 24th September 2011
Time: 7:00 GMT (18:00 NZ Time)
Venue: Otago Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Romain Poite (FRA)

While this match is hardly do-or-die for England, fans and pundits alike are calling for the side to up their game ahead of their crucial Pool B clash against Scotland a week later. The Oaks however, are unlikely to just stand there and take the punishment from England, and although third place in the group – and with it a guaranteed spot at the 2015 edition of the tournament – may be slightly out of sight, the underdogs will not be worried about giving the 2007 finalists a little more to think about come final whistle on Saturday evening.

England:

It has been far from an easy ride for England so far and, in most cases, they only have themselves to blame. Aside from what appears to be a tabloid agenda to unsettle the side, many are asking what has happened to the team that played so well in the first half of the 2011 Six Nations and against Australia in 2010. It has almost become a cliché to talk about discipline, so except for stating the bleeding obvious (as everyone else has) about needing to drastically decrease the penalty count, what else do they need to do to show any signs of a World Cup-winning team? The breakdown is currently an issue and will become exposed against the better sides. We’ve moved past the fact that they need a proper seven so the back row needs to get in and secure the ball at a more rapid pace, making sure that it can be recycled quickly. The backs managed to show signs of life in the second half last week and they will need to illustrate how potent they can be against opponents which are not fatigued.

Romania
After a brilliant start against Scotland, where they lost in only the last ten minutes, Romania retreated into their shells against a rampaging Argentina, so will be eager for a big performance. However, coach Romeo Gontineac has changed 11 players, a record for the side, citing the fact that his whole team need experience against quality sides. The experienced Cristian Petre starts at captain over usual skipper Marius Tincu but there are hints that the side is perhaps looking more towards their clash with Georgia the following week.

What to expect:
An England win is pretty much on the cards, but it is the nature of the win that will be focused on after 80 minutes. Romania are similar to Georgia in regards to their game plan, preferring to play it through the pack, so if it is wet (which looks to be the case) England will have a good barometer to test themselves against.

All eyes on:

Lots of people will be looking at Mike Tindall believing that the pressure from the gutter press will have affected his game. However, this has deviated from what I think could be an interesting return for one player in particular. Mark Cueto will make his debut at the 2011 World Cup, and with many believing Delon Armitage has put his hand up for a first team spot, it will be interesting to see how Cuets reacts. For what it is worth, I believe Cueto offers a little more when it comes to experience, and his kicking game, effort to find work in the middle of the paddock and superior decision making makes him my first choice. However, will he underline his reputation with a solid outing?

Fly half Marin Danut Dumbrava returns for Romania after missing out on the Argentina match. He missed a couple of kicks against Scotland, which may have eventually resulted in a different finish to the match, so a good performance will his case for the No.10 jersey.
Head-to-head: The backrows

As highlighted above, the breakdown is an area that needs evaluation for England, and they will have a solid test on Saturday. Tom Croft, Lewis Moody and James Haskell need to prove they can win clean ball without getting penalised. Although it is necessary to point out that they were not solely responsible for this last time around, they need to boss it and take ownership instead of waiting in the midfield for a crash ball. For Romania, Perpignan’s Ovidiu Tonita may be starting in the unfamiliar position of Number 8, but he will use all his knowledge as a flanker to disrupt the ball. If he can get underneath their skin and play to the referee, he could help keep his side in touch.

Last fixture: England 134 – 0 Romania, 17th November, 2001, Twickenham, England.

Weather Forecast: Rain

Prediction:
As outlined above, this will almost certainly be an England win, but to be honest, all that matters is the manner in which it is done and how they perform, specifically in the first half. If they come out as determined and as bloody-minded as they are making out they are following last week, they will be 18 points up by half time. However, I think Johnno will be keen on the team not to do that and ask them to go through the motions, naturally finding  their rhythm to gradually wear down Romania, thus finishing them off in the last 30 minutes. This will not be a performance which will turn the world on its head, but it will be an improvement. England to win by 33 points.

by Nick Winn