Bucharest Wolves coach Lynn Howells is realistic about his team’s chances of springing an upset at Newcastle Falcons tomorrow night, despite having only lost to them by a single point in Romania.
Dean Richards’ side were 13-12 winners in a scrappy match in the country’s capital back in October, but the Wolves’ Welsh boss admitted: “I think we were lucky to be that close, to be honest.
“Newcastle had a lot of opportunities they didn’t take, and from what I hear from people back home that has been the story of their season.
“They are not scoring the points despite making opportunities, but in terms of the game in Romania I was just pleased to be within a point of a Premiership side.
“It was a big performance for us, but for anybody who saw the game they would probably admit we were fortunate to be within a score.”
Howells was among those watching on TV last Thursday as the Falcons fell 9-7 to Brive, a result which leaves the French side all but mathematically assured of taking the group title and the accompanying quarter-final place.
“I did get a chance to watch the Brive game, where the pitch looked like it was very difficult for both sides to adapt to,” he said.
“I appreciate the weather meant it was virtually impossible, and from the Falcons’ point of view I imagine the thing they are most frustrated about is the unforced errors.
“The last period summed it up for me when the centre James Fitzpatrick, who is normally a big ball-carrier for them, lost the ball twice.
“If they had kept it in close possession you would have backed them to get a penalty at the very least to win the game, and it seemed to be the story of their game.”
Also doubling up as coach of the Romanian national side, whose second-tier Six Nations competition kicks off next month, Howells said: “The Challenge Cup is part of our selection, but the difficult thing has been the gap between games.
“Because of the weather in Eastern Europe, rugby is a summer sport in Romania, so while the English, French and Italian league has been going on we have not been playing at all. Our guys aren’t professional rugby players, so we have basically had a month where we have done nothing.
“That means this block of two games has been like the start of a new season for us, but the big thing for me is that I have found a bit more strength in depth for the national team going into our Six Nations B competition. It has worked out quite well but, like Newcastle I suspect, it has been injuries that have been our biggest problem.
“We have picked up a host of niggling problems at this particular stage, and even though they might not be serious injuries keeping guys out for a long spell, it is enough to mean they aren’t available for the few games we have in the Challenge Cup.
“The problem with the modern generation is that they have to be 100% to play in a game, and in rugby that is not possible all the time.
“You play with a little pain, and our guys are learning that.” Recording a 23-11 victory at Italian side Calvisano last weekend, Howells said: “With playing in Italy on Saturday and being in Newcastle for a Thursday kick-off we just don’t have the turnaround time to do much in the way of preparation, but that is what this competition and rugby in general is all about.
“The first half in Calvisano was very competitive, but once everyone knew the result the second half turned into a bit of a foregone conclusion.
“It petered out into a low-key finish, but up until then it had been a good contest and a useful work-out for us.”