Pool B preview: England v Romania
Fri, 23 Sep 2011 00:00
England should cruise to the third straight victory of their campaign when they take on a much-changed Romania outfit in their World Cup Pool B encounter at the Otago Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday.
However, the focus for manager Martin Johnson will be to gain some vital fluency against an opponent that will probably not provide much resistance.
Romanian coach Romeo Gontineac has made 11 changes to his team to face an experienced England line-up, and it is clear that he is targeting his side's final match against Eastern European rivals Georgia in order to salvage at least one win from their campaign.
England have won all four of their previous Tests against Romania. And when the teams last met, at Twickenham 10 years ago, England thrashed the Oaks 134-0 for their largest-ever points total in a full international.
Victories over Argentina (13-9) and Georgia (41-10) have left England top of the pool but both wins have been overshadowed by the way they've repeatedly found themselves on the wrong side of the referee, with the Six Nations champions conceding 11 penalties in the first half alone against Georgia.
Johnson, England's 2003 World Cup-winning captain knows, if not this weekend, then certainly in their final pool clash against old rivals Scotland in Auckland that better opposition goalkicking will punish such indiscipline.
England coaches and players have repeatedly spoken this week about the need to "learn lessons", with Jonny Wilkinson saying: "The guys are taking this massively on board and believe me guys are understanding now that once is a mistake, twice is a lot more than that and three times just can't happen.
Johnson has named an highly-experienced team, with wing Mark Cueto set to make his first appearance of the tournament after struggling with a back injury in place of Delon Armitage.
Meanwhile Wilkinson has come in for Toby Flood in a see-saw battle for flyhalf that is a source of comfort, and not concern, to Johnson.
Steve Thompson, a World Cup-winning hooker, is in a pack featuring the Leicester duo of Tom Croft and Louis Deacon and where prop Alex Corbisiero makes his first start of the tournament.
There will be a fair amount of pressure on the England team to deliver, as they know that if they battle to put an under-strength Romanian team away then more questions will be asked of their prospects in the knock-out phase of the tournament.
Mike Tindall, recalled to midfield in place of New Zealand-born centre Shontayne Hape, who scored two tries against Georgia, said: "It's not about believing you can score at will against any team, it's about the processes that get you there and we skipped some of those processes (against Georgia)."
The weather will be shocking with hail expected in chilly conditions, but that should not have too much of an impact on the game which will be played in the enclosed Otago Stadium.
Gontineac insisted on Thursday he was not saving his leading players for the pool finale against Georgia, which both Eastern European sides, still searching for a first victory at this World Cup, will regard as a 'winnable' game.
Among those left out of the starting side is skipper and renowned hooker Marius Tincu but Gontineac said: "The risk would be to keep the same team because for two games we have played almost the same team."
Players to Watch
For England: The performance of Ben Youngs and Jonny Wilkinson - widely regarded as Johnson's first-choice halfback pairing - will be intriguing, while the loose trio of Lewis Moody, Tom Croft and James Haskell will be out to put an end to their team's breakdown woes.
For Romania: With many of the leading players being rested for this game, the Romanian performance will be all about who can step up and force their way into the team to play Georgia with an impressive performance against England. Perpignan loose forward Ovidiu Tonita will pose a threat from the back of the scrum while outside centre Ionel Cazan will be a threat in midfield if he gets the ball in space.
Head to Head: The battle up front will be key. The Romanians have looked solid against all opponents at scrum-time and lock and new skipper Cristian Petre will look to lead the way in the set-pieces. It is no secret that England have battled to keep their discipline at the breakdown so the hard-working Romanian No.8 Ovidiu Tonita will ask as many questions as he can of the England loose trio.
2001: England won 134-0 in London
1994: England won 54-3 in London
1989: England won 58-3 in Bucharest
1985: England won 22-15 in London
Prediction: Romania will be determind but their severe lack of firepower means that the margin of victory will largely be decided by the quality of England's performance. England to win by more than 35 points.
England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Mike Tindall, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 James Haskell, 7 Lewis Moody (captain), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Steve Thompson, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Lee Mears, 17 David Wilson, 18 Simon Shaw, 19 Tom Wood, 20 Richard Wigglesworth, 21 Toby Flood, 22 Delon Armitage.
Romania: 15 Florin Vlaicu, 14 Stefan Ciuntu, 13 Ionel Cazan, 12 Iulian Dumitras, 11 Adrian Apostol, 10 Marin Dumbrava, 9 Lucian Sirbu, 8 Ovidiu Tonita, 7 Sandu Burcea, 6 Cosmin Ratiu, 5 Cristian Petre (captain), 4 Valentin Poperlan, 3 Silviu Florea, 2 Bogdan Zebega, 1 Nicolae Nere.
Replacements: 16 Marius Tincu, 17 Paulica Ion, 18 Mihai Macovei, 19 Daniel Ianus, 20 Valentin Calefeteanu, 21 Csaba Gal, 22 Catalin Nicolae.
Date: Saturday, September 24
Venue: Otago Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 18.00 (06.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Showers with hail and a cold southwesterly developing. Max 12°C, Min 5°C.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Simon McDowell (Ireland)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
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