Final four eye World Cup spot
July 16, 2010
Kazakhstan's Maxim Lifontov in action during the 2010 Asian Five Nations © Getty Images
The Rugby World Cup qualification race is about to reach its high-stakes conclusion, with four teams left in the mix for the final tournament spot.
A place in Pool B, alongside Argentina, England, Scotland and Georgia, will go to the winner of the cross-continental play-off, contested home and away, but first Romania must tackle Tunisia and Uruguay take on Kazakhstan this weekend to decide who will reach the final hurdle.
Romania, with bags of previous World Cup experience, are heavy favourites to triumph over Tunisia in Buzau on Saturday but must do so without a number of their big-name players due to rest periods.
Perpignan duo Ovidiu Tonita and Marius Tincu will be absent, while London Irish prop Paulica Ion also misses out. Bogdan Balan, Silviu Florea, Sorin Socol and Bogdan Zebega are further losses and fly-half Iulian Dumitras has been granted paternity leave.
Nevertheless, the home side are fresh from finishing as runners-up to Namibia at the IRB Nations Cup and have a good record against the Tunisians, winning three of their four previous meetings.
"With so many senior players out of action for a number of reasons, we have selected a fairly young team, with great potential, but inexperienced nevertheless," coach Romeo Gontineac said.
"One of the main objectives is to bring them back to earth, to concentrate on basics and apply the game plan. We must learn to walk before we can run and this is our job with this young team. We must identify the leaders and give them responsibility in the new more complex game plan."
Also on Saturday, Kazakhstan face the daunting trip to face Uruguay in Montevideo. Timur Mashurov's side finished second to Japan in the Asian Five Nations to reach this stage, beating competition from an improving Hong Kong, but will need to step up again as they look to deny Los Teros their place at a third World Cup. Fresh in the mind for the visitors will be a harrowing 101-7 loss to Japan - something they can go a long way to atoning for this weekend.
As Ray McLoughlin prepares to celebrate his 75th birthday, Huw Richards pays tribute to the man and the selectors who had the wisdom to bring him into the Ireland fold
John Taylor argues the world's best XVs players must be given a chance to play in the Olympics to increase the appeal of the game
The All Blacks' form is not a peaking issue, but Hansen must threaten to wield his axe, to demand improvement, Craig Dowd writes
"It has been the World Cup that smashed down the gender barriers of the sport." Tom Hamilton looks back at a remarkable tournament