Dragons v Bucharest Wolves: Howells' Romanians raise game

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Wales Sport
Lynn Howells
Lynn Howells has coached in Wales, England, Scotland, Italy and Romania during his long career
European Rugby Challenge Cup - pool three: NG Dragons v Bucharest Wolves
Venue: Rodney Parade Date: Friday, 12 December Kick-off: 19:30 GMT
Coverage: BBC Radio Wales and BBC Sport website

Lynn Howells comes in from the freezing cold of a December afternoon in Bucharest, takes off his gloves and smiles. "This is warm," he says.

As director of rugby of Bucharest Wolves and the Romanian national side, Howells is accustomed to the chill of an eastern European winter.

Romania's qualification for the World Cup means Howells will be the only Welshman in charge of a team at the 2015 tournament.

And having worked in Italy and Scotland among other countries during his nomadic career, the former Pontypridd coach is used to acclimatising to new environments.

It explains why watching his Bucharest side lose to Newport Gwent Dragons with the temperature dropping to -1C at a snowy Ghencea Stadium is no hardship.

"Minus one? That's good, considering it can get down to about -20C," the Welshman says, grinning as he notices my hands shaking.

The Dragons players do not seem to share Howells' view either, as they rush off the pitch to the comfort of a basic, but preciously warm, changing room.

The Welsh region have just beaten Bucharest 37-10, trailing 10-0 early in a testing first half before cruising to an ultimately comfortable victory.

Howells is naturally disappointed to lose, but he can take more encouragement from this defeat than most he has endured during his long career.

Bucharest Wolves are a team formed every season to play in the European Challenge Cup, consisting of players from eight Romanian clubs.

It is a tough assignment, particularly when the Wolves' pool opponents in this campaign are Stade Francais, Newcastle and the Dragons, who they face again at Rodney Parade on Friday.

"It's part of their learning curve. They have to play against teams like Newport," Howells says.

"It gives a young player purpose to play at a level they're not used to, and I think that's the most important thing."

Lynn Howells
Lynn Howells was Wales' caretaker coach for the tour of Japan in 2001

Howells oversees the club side in addition to his role as Romania's director of rugby, which he has held since 2012.

It is a far cry from his days as Cardiff head coach and Graham Henry's assistant with Wales, but the vastly knowledgeable man from the Rhondda likes nothing more than a challenge.

"It's been exciting," he says. "I came as a technical advisor from the IRB [International Rugby Board, now World Rugby]. The coach left and they asked me if I'd take over as head coach, which I said I would provided we got to the World Cup.

"I've got them to the World Cup so, at the end of the World Cup, I'll take a step back but I have to leave in place an infrastructure which will take the game forward again.

"It's not just the players, it's coaches as well. It's OK for a Welshman or an overseas coach to come in, but they have to start breeding Romanian coaches as well."

Romania have been handed a difficult group for the World Cup, drawn alongside France, Ireland, Italy and Canada.

Having beaten Canadaexternal-link and Tonga recently, however, Howells is setting high standards for his side.

Romanian rugby shocks
Romania have beaten France eight times, including a famous 12-6 away win in 1990.They have claimed two victories against Wales, winning 24-6 in Bucharest in 1983 and 15-9 in Cardiff in 1988.Romania also defeated Scotland twice, 18-12 in Bucharest in 1991 and 28-22 in Bucharest in 1984.

"I think the national team is capable of causing a shock," he says.

"If we get two wins, it means we go automatically to Japan in 2019 which would give us an even longer time to develop and work for the World Cup. That's important.

"I hope we can get the two results at the World Cup because then maybe the tier one nations will understand there's a level capable of competing against them.

"Maybe there could be a two-tier competition, which would allow the top of the tier two nations to go through and play in the Six Nations.

"And maybe the team that's not doing well in the Six Nations would have to come down and play the tier two nations. Then the whole game would rise."

Although Howells' contract ends after the World Cup, his is a long-term vision for Romania.

And pondering his next step as he walks back out into the bracing cold of Bucharest, there is another flash of the customary Howells grin.

"Yes, that's it, and then we'll look for something else," he says.

"It's not possible for me to sit down in the house, that's for sure."

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