TWO tries from the World Cup scoring hero Simon Danielli hauled Scotland from a scary abyss of defeat to Pool A minnows Romania and into the next game with Georgia with maximum points.
Danielli launched his international career with a try against Japan in the 2003 World Cup with his first touch of the ball and then followed up with two tries against the USA, both games in which Scotland were struggling to put away lower-ranked opponents.
The winger, who turned 32 only on Thursday, missed the 2007 event due to injury but he was back in finishing form again, eventually, today. Danielli may not have been at this tournament had Nikki Walker not suffered a serious injury in the final warm-up match and it is doubtful whether he would have made the starting line-up in Invercargill this morning had Graeme Morrison not suffered a minor leg knock which forced a switch for Sean Lamont to centre.
But, Danielli was a lively presence from the first minute and his powerful running followed a Lamont break that ultimately set up Scotland’s first points, from a Chris Paterson penalty, two minutes into the game.
Danielli then set up Mike Blair for Scotland’s opening try just five minutes later, after fine work by Ross Ford, Paterson and Joe Ansbro, leaving the Edinburgh scrum-half to neatly step the last line of cover and run in at the posts. Bizarrely, Paterson missed the conversion in front of the posts, the new Gilbert ball having slipped off the kicking tee just as he struck it and dribbled along the ground.
Romania, playing in brightly-coloured yellow shirts with red and blue shoulders, were struggling to cope with Scotland’s pace, but then errors began to creep into the Scots’ play, knock-ons, turnovers and penalties handing possession to the Oaks and a way into the match.
Most of the 12,500 supporters in Rugby Park Stadium seemed to be behind Scotland and Allan Jacobsen’s Edinburgh supporters made their voices heard with their own choral tributes to the loosehead prop. This backing was needed as the Scottish pack had their work cut out to deal with the ferocious Romanian scrummage.
Romania stand-off Danut Dumbrava was off-target with a penalty, but swiftly made amends with another shot at goal to cut the deficit to 10-3. The Romanian forwards were trying to get their pick-and-drives and mauling going, but the Scots worked superbly to stop them by getting stuck into the machinery as it tried to click into second gear.
Scotland could have been out of sight by the 20th minute had referee Dave Pearson not pulled back a certain score for Paterson, who had Danielli in support, for what he perceived to be blocking in midfield, and then Danielli not squandered a glorious chance when he stepped inside and was caught by the full-back, forcing a forward pass to the full-back, after a scintillating break from Scotland’s 22 by Max Evans, when a straight run for the right-hand corner would have ensured the try.
But then Joe Ansbro took matters into his own hands, with a superb try emanating from a scrum, the centre taking a neat inside pass from Evans and exposing poor tackling in beating four men in the 22.
At that point Scotland seemed to be on easy street, but what the players did not seem to realise was that to maintain that control they had to at least maintain the lively tempo and sense of ambition, and keep mistakes to a minimum. But it all started to change over the middle hour of the game.
Openside flanker John Barclay was penalised again at a ruck and Dumbrava slotted his second penalty, the Scots became too deliberate in their passing and phase-building, passes behind men slowing momentum rather than building it, and Romania stepped up their physicality in the scrum, maul and loose play to get onto the front foot.
In one period the Oaks maul took play deep into the Scots half, the Scottish scrum seemed to implode and Alastair Kellock’s men were holding on as their line was battered.
Dumbrava missed another penalty six minutes from half-time, Paterson responded with one of his own to put Scotland 18-6 ahead but the try the Romanian pack had been threatening came on the stroke of half-time from prop Mihaita Lazar.
Dumbrava missed the conversion leaving Scotland with a 18-11 interval lead, but one pondered the fact that had he kicked all of his goals Romania would have led 19-18. That should have been a wake-up call to Scotland, but instead they continued to struggle for any control in the second period and were not helped by referee Pearson’s reluctance to sin-bin Romanians pulling every trick in the book to slow Scottish ball in rucks.
He did award penalties, but Paterson missed one when it came, facing the same wind that had troubled Dumbrava, and the full-back and Ford were denied tries by fine defence before Paterson did restart the scoreboard.
At 21-11 Scotland sent on Dan Parks to close the game out with less than half an hour to go, but the fly-half sent his first two restarts straight into touch which only lifted Romania further. The Scottish forwards struggled in the scrum and continued to lack the necessary dynamism to force Romanians off the ball at rucks and Ionut Dimofte rewarded their play with another two penalties coming up to the hour-mark.
The introduction of Florian Surugiu at scrum-half for Lucien Sirbu further lifted the Romanian tempo and with his pack dominating and big runners being launched at Scotland’s smaller defenders momentum was building into the last quarter in Romania’s favour.
Chris Cusiter and Ross Rennie injected some urgency into the Scottish ranks, Nathan Hines brought his experience and nous, and Scott Lawson and Alasdair Dickinson added fresh impetus.
But they could do little when, from more gifted possession, the hulking Romanian pack set up a scrum five and duly drove Scotland backwards for No8 Daniel Carpo to touch down with 14 minutes to go, Dimofte adding the conversions to put Romania 24-21 ahead.
With six replacements on the field, Scotland finally reacted to raise the tempo and after Paterson converted his fourth penalty, to level matters with ten minutes remaining, Danielli produced his late double to stun the Romanians.
His first try owed everything to quick ball sped across the halfway line to Richie Vernon and the No8’s incredible pace on the outside, Vernon making 30 metres past defenders before feeding Danielli who ran in untouched.
The second, with just two minutes left, stemmed from Evans’ break on the right and slick handling across the 22 – by this stage Romania were on a warning that next ruck infringement would be a sin-bin – and Vernon again supplied the final pass to make the try easy. It was a good start and a good finish; it is just the middle hour that Scotland need serious attention before meeting the stronger Georgia side and losing interest in the World Cup before they even meet the big guns of Argentina and England.
Scotland: Tries – Blair, Ansbro, Danielli 2; Pens – Paterson 4; Cons – Paterson.
Romania: Tries – Lazar, Carpo; Pens – Dumbrava 2, Dimofte 2; Cons – Dimofte 2.
Scotland: C Paterson; M Evans, J Ansbro, S Lamont, S Danielli; R Jackson, M Blair; A Jacobsen, R Ford, G Cross, R Gray, A Kellock (capt), K Brown, J Barclay, R Vernon. Subs: N Hines for Gray, D Parks for Jackson, both 52mins, A Dickinson for Jacobsen, C Cusiter for Blair, R Rennie for Barclay, all 62, S Lawson for Ford 68.
Romania: I Dumitras; S Ciuntu, C Gal, I Dimofte, M Lemnaru, D Dumbrava, L Sirbu; M Lazar, M Tincu (capt), P Ion, V Ursache, C Petre, M Macovei, D Carpo, O Tonita.Subs: F Surugui for Sirbu, I Cazan for Dumbrava, both 51mins, F Vlaicu for Dumitras 58, B Suman for Tincu, S Florea for Ion, both 67, S Burcea for Macovei 76, V Poparlan for Petre 79.