Ireland and Romania meet for the first time at Test level in almost ten years, as Joe Schmidt’s much-changed side chase their second Rugby World Cup pool win at Wembley Stadium.
Team News: There are 12 changes in personnel to the Ireland team that beat Canada last weekend, withJared Payne, Keith Earls and Jamie Heaslip the only players retained.
Number 8 Heaslip will captain his country for the 11th time, taking over from the benched Paul O’Connell. Chris Henry slots in at openside flanker and Jordi Murphy – one of the four Rugby World Cup debutants in the starting line-up – gets the nod at blindside.
Devin Toner and Donnacha Ryan pair up in the second row, while loosehead Cian Healy returns for his first Test start since March’s Six Nations win over Scotland. He is joined in the front row by World Cup newcomer Richardt Strauss and Nathan White, who is set for his fifth cap.
Leinster duo Ian Madigan and Eoin Reddan come in for their second Test start together at half-back, having previously lined out alongside each other against Georgia last November.
There is another provincial axis in midfield with Ulster’s Darren Cave and Payne filling the centre berths, while Earls is joined in the back-three by Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe, the only survivor from Ireland’s 43-12 victory over Romania back in November 2005.
O’Connell is poised to become Ireland’s most-capped forward if he wins his 106th cap off the bench.Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Sean O’Brien, Conor Murray and Rob Kearney are the other replacements who were involved in the Canada game, with youngsters Tadhg Furlong and Paddy Jackson standing by to make their World Cup bows this weekend.
Speaking about Robbie Henshaw’s recovery from a hamstring strain and the other knocks suffered byJonathan Sexton, Peter O’Mahony and Ian Henderson, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said: “Robbie, I think, is fit to play. It’s that he missed the early part of the week and therefore I think there’s a couple of them (including Henshaw) that we left out partly (as a) precaution and partly because they hadn’t had the time running with the team.
“Again, those other three guys trained absolutely fully today. They’re fit to play and fit to be selected but today was the first full training that they took part in.”
Asked about his expectations of Sunday’s team and the return of prop Healy, he added: “There’s a realisation from them, particularly after viewing Wednesday evening’s game with Romania playing France, there’s a realisation that it’s an opportunity but also a massive responsibility on them to ensure that we get the result, and that’s going to take a bit of work.
“Cian is always an asset whether he’s in the starting team or off the bench. I think he came off the bench mostly through the Six Nations but the one start he did get against Scotland he got two turnovers on the ground in the first 20 minutes.”
Meanwhile, Romania head coach Lynn Howells has made eight changes to the team to play Ireland. New Zealand-born out-half Michael Wiringi, who has one cap, will make his Rugby World Cup debut in Romania’s most experienced test team of all-time, with 728 caps in their starting line-up.
Ionut Botezatu, Andrei Radoi and Andrei Ursache have been drafted into the team after coming on as replacements during the 38-11 loss to France. Tongan centre Paula Kinikilau also starts.
Oyonnax clubman Valentin Ursache will miss Sunday’s game after picking up a one-week suspension for a dangerous tackle against France. Viorel Lucaci will move across to the blindside flanker berth, with talismanic captain Mihai Macovei selected at openside owing to tournament newcomer Daniel Carpo’s inclusion at number 8.
Veteran lock Ovidiu Tonita was sprung from the bench on Wednesday night to become the fourth Romanian player to play at four World Cups. Against Ireland, he will equal the Romanian record of World Cup appearances held by 2011 World Cup head coach Romeo Gontineac.
Tonita (aged 35) has played in all of Romania’s last 13 World Cup matches going back to the 2003 tournament, including the 45-17 defeat by Ireland, and he and Paul O’Connell are the only ones involved then who are also involved now.
Tonita also played in Romania’s last Test meeting with Ireland, the 43-12 reversal at Lansdowne Road in November 2005, as did Csaba Gal and Catalin Fercu, who both start in the back-line on Sunday.
Full-back Fercu, who signed for English club Saracens last year, is still just one try from becoming his country’s record try scorer. He has been stuck on 28 tries for 17 Tests stretching back more than two years.
Welshman Howells, who has coached Romania since 2012, said: “(The four-day turnaround between matches) has been very difficult for us, but the players have used the time well and by time we arrive at Wembley we will be ready.
“I wanted to pick the best team and one that would do us proud. Experience was a factor but not a deciding one.”
IRELAND: Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster); Tommy Bowe (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster); Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster), Eoin Reddan (Old Crescent/Leinster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Richardt Strauss (Old Wesley/Leinster), Nathan White (Connacht), Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster), Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster), Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) (capt).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster), Paul O’Connell (Young Munster), Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster), Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster), Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster).
ROMANIA: Catalin Fercu (Saracens); Adrian Apostol (CSM Stiinta Baia Mare), Paula Kinkinilau (Timisoara Saracens), Csaba Gal (Universitatea Cluj), Ionut Botezatu (CSM Stiinta Baia Mare); Michael Wiringi (CSM Stiinta Baia Mare), Valentin Calafeteanu (Timisoara Saracens); Andrei Ursache (Carcassonne), Andrei Radoi (Timisoara Saracens), Paulica Ion (Perpignan), Valentin Poparlan (Timisoara Saracens), Ovidiu Tonita (Aix-en-Provence), Viorel Lucaci (CSA Steaua), Mihai Macovei (Colomiers) (capt), Daniel Carpo (CSM Bucuresti).
Replacements: Otar Turashvili (Colomiers), Mihaita Lazar (Castres Olympique), Alexandru Tarus (Timisoara Saracens), Johannes van Heerden (CSM Stiinta Baia Mare), Stelian Burcea (Timisoara Saracens), Florin Surugiu (CSM Bucuresti), Florin Ionita (CSA Steaua), Florin Vlaicu (CSM Bucuresti).
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Television Match Official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ireland to win: 1/250; Draw: 66/1; Romania to win: 33/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Joe Schmidt (Ireland) – “I think for us it’s not so much building on anything, it’s probably solidifying a couple of things because I think Romania pose a different threat. The way they put pressure on the French lineout is a lot different to what Canada did last week.
“Canada didn’t really go after the ball in the air whereas Romania got a lot of pressure in the air. So we’re going to have to be really accurate there. I think Canada didn’t go after our scrum – we know that that’s something Romania demonstrated (against France). I’m not sure that they always go about it the right way but they get the right result in the end.
“And I guess the other part is the breakdown. Canada seem to have included (Nanyak) Dala this week, maybe to put a bit more pressure on the breakdown because they didn’t quite get that pressure last week.
“Watching Romania put that pressure through France made the breakdown a real battle for survival. So there’s three areas that I wouldn’t say we’re trying to build on, we’re just going to try to make sure we’re solid on.”
Lynn Howells (Romania) – “The lineout is certainly one of the areas we have to improve after the game against France. We didn’t function at the lineout. We will take it to Ireland in the scrum. The lineout is certainly an area we need to improve on.
“The ultimate goal would be two wins (at this World Cup). If we get two wins, we go to Japan (in 2019( and that’s four years of development which is something that Romania has never had.
“What’s difficult for us and for World Rugby is to get these teams to give us the opportunity. We’ve gone four years without a tier 1 game and we’ve had to play two tier 1 games in one week.
“We have to show people that we can perform at this level. It gives us that opportunity. Before we didn’t have that opportunity. We showed against France that we can compete. If we put another good performance in against Ireland, we’ll see more people talking about the tier 2 nations.”
Last Meetings –
2002: Rugby World Cup Qualifier – Ireland 39 Romania 8, Thomond Park
2003: Rugby World Cup Pool A – Ireland 45 Romania 17, Central Coast Stadium, Gosford
2005: Autumn Test – Ireland 43 Romania 12, Lansdowne Road