Brave Sasu fires Romania
ROMANIAN winger Catalin Sasu surprised the New Zealand All Blacks in training the other day by catching Eric Rush.
And yesterday he surprised Papua New Guinea in the final of the third-tier Bowl competition to help his country retain the trophy they won on their Hongkong Sevens debut last year.
The 25-year-old physical education student brought the Romanians back from the dead with two tries to clinch a 17-14 victory . . . after coming close to being substituted in the first half because of an ankle injury.
Papua New Guinea, who were beaten by Romania in last year's Bowl final, looked to be heading for a revenge victory when tries from centre Morea Kauna and prop forward Paul Tiensten, both converted by Tiensten, gave them a 14-0 lead midway through the first half.
As Romania launched their counter-attack, Sasu stayed down after a tackle and Romania were ready to send on replacement Constantin Petre.
But Sasu, one of only two full internationals in the squad, battled on and inspired a second-half fightback with two high-speed tries, one down the left wing and one down the right.
Romania's coach, Mircea Paraschiv, said: ''When Sasu went down we thought he could not carry on and wanted to send on a replacement.
''He had turned his ankle but thought he would be able to run it off if he stayed on, so we let him continue.'' And their judgement was right as Sasu's pace, coupled with a tactical change from the coach, turned the match on its head.
In the first minute of the second half, prop Dragos Stefanescu powered over for a try, converted by stand-off Daniel Neaga, to close the gap to 14-7.
Then Sasu took over, scoring in the left-wing corner to make it 14-12.
With Romania now in control, a Neaga break was continued by centre Serban Guranescu and finished off by Sasu for the winning score.
Coach Paraschiv added: ''We were losing 14-0 at half-time so I had to change the tactics.
''We were giving them too much room to use their fast backs so I told our forwards to play the second half like 15s rugby - to keep the ball and set up positions before releasing the backs.'' The Romanians certainly benefitted from their midweek sparring sessions, having taken on New Zealand and the Welsh President's Seven in full-scale challenge matches.
''I was very impressed with the level of rugby throughout the tournament, so I am very happy we have won one of the three trophies,'' added the coach.
''After the first day I thought we were good enough to win the Bowl but next year we do not want to be going for a hat-trick.
''We have to set our sights higher and aim for the Plate. That is our ambition next year and I think we can do it because the individual technique of the players is improving all the time.
''In Romania sevens rugby is nothing; it is only just starting to be played because of what we have achieved in Hongkong in the last two years.'' What they lack in sevens experience, Romania certainly make up for in fitness and determination.
They had to work hard for all three victories yesterday, beating Thailand in sudden-death in the quarter-final and South Korea, last season's Cup semi-finalists, by 12-7 in the semi-final.
Against Thailand, Sasu put Romania ahead after only 15 seconds and a converted try by centre Guranescu gave them a 12-point cushion early in the second half.
Thai captain Chucheep Kumfung scored two tries to tie the scores 12-12 at full-time, only for Guranescu to steal the show with his second try of the match to put them in the semi-finals.
South Korea led 7-0 at the break with a converted try from scrum-half Sung Hae-kyoung but this time Romania fought back with two tries from Sasu, the first of which was converted by Neaga.
PNG, with centre Kauna their most dangerous player, had a much more impressive run to the final, beating Malaysia 28-7 and Hongkong 26-12.