Four teams in hunt for final RWC place

With only one of the 20 Rugby World Cup 2011 finalists yet to be decided, the tournament line-up is four matches away from completion.

Only four teams are left in the race for the final slot in Pool B of the tournament in New Zealand and after this weekend’s repechage clashes between Romania and Tunisia and Uruguay and Kazakhstan only two nations will be left in contention.

Generally the repechage matches in the final stages of the RWC qualifying process provide intriguing contests, and the two matches make no exception.

The match between Uruguay and Kazakhstan is their first ever encounter, while Romania and Tunisia have not played each other for nearly 20 years.

Kazakhstan’s spectacular advance in the IRB ranking has seen them climbing to an all-time high of 26, having now deposed Korea of the Asian Union eternal runner-up tag, with the ambitious Hong Kong also left behind.

Though Uruguay, ranked 22 and former RWC contenders in 1999 and 2003 are favourites, it is not beyond the realms of probability to see Timur Mashurov and his men producing an upset in Montevideo.

Similarly, Romania, currently ranked 19, are hot favourites to prevail over Tunisia, in the 34th position in the rankings. The two nations have played each other four times, the last of which was in 1993 in Bucharest when Romania prevailed 51-0.

Tunisia however, did manage to spoil the Romanian party in 1986 in Monastir, when they won 17-15.

The two teams reach the crucial RWC 2011 qualifying match in Buzau, Romania by markedly different routes. The Romanians finished the IRB Nations Cup with a meaningful win against a strong and purposeful Italy A in Bucharest in June.

Roughly at the same time Tunisia had to acknowledge defeat by 23 points to six at the hands of rejuvenated Morocco in the final of the Africa Cup at El Menzah Stadium in Tunis. In marked contrast to their poor 2009 season, Romania finished unbeaten in the 2010 round of the FIRA-AER Championship, followed by a surprising, yet thoroughly deserved runner up position in the IRB Nations Cup in June 2010.

Both sides have recently changed their coaching staff. Frenchman Serge Lairle is no longer in charge of Romania and Danie de Villiers has returned to South Africa after Tunisia lost 10-21 to Namibia in the final of the African section of the RWC qualifiers.

The Tunisian team is now temporarily coached by Mohamed Sahraoui, the Tunisian Federation development manager, while the Romanians have appointed the duo Romeo Gontineac and Steve MacDowall, who took over in the final stages of the European qualifying process against Ukraine.

Injury to key players as well as the need to give the overseas professionals time off, has forced Romania to play without its heavy brigade of Ovidiau Tonita, Marius Tincu, Bogdan Balan, Silviu Florea, Ion Paulica, Sorin Socol, Bogdan Zebega as well as without fly half Iulian Dumitras on paternity leave.

Though veteran scrum half Lucian Sirbu is likely to start the game, the news that the talented Valentin Calafeteanu has recovered from injury must have pleased the Romanian coaches.

The athletic Calafeteanu, who is playing for the Romanian club Arad, is a genuine international class performer, sorely missed since he broke his arm in the closing stages of the match against Russia at Soci.

It will be interesting to see how the two Romanian scrum halves will handle live-wire 24-year old Sabri Gmil, the new Compiegne club scrum-half, very much the playmaker of this young and enterprising Tunisian side.

In addition to Calafeteanu, a seasoned performer at 25, coaches Gontineac and MacDowall have invited several youngsters including Ionel Badiu, Valentin Popirlan, Gabriel Conache, Ionel Cazan and Madalin Lemnaru to prepare alongside the senior side.

“With so many senior players out of action for a number of reasons, we have selected

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