Romania's last-gasp victory against Canada earlier this week means their final Pool D tie with Italy at Sandy Park on Sunday suddenly became a winner-takes-all. Glory brings the best prize on offer for those not making the quarterfinals: automatic qualification for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Having watched Georgia book their tickets for Japan in four years' time with a tense win over Namibia in Exeter, Romania have moved into their neighbours from across the Black Sea's east Devon base to prepare for Italy -- who will be looking to get over the disappointment of a hard-fought defeat to Ireland that ended their hopes of reaching the last eight. With much attention on the likes of Australia, Wales and England on a busy weekend of final pool matches, keep on eye on Italy vs. Romania -- it's going to be a good one.
Italy are without Martin Castrogiovanni, after scans found a tumour in the influential prop's back, as well as Gonzalo Garcia and Michele Rizzo, who picked up hip and knee injuries respectively in Sunday's defeat to Ireland. Captain Sergio Parisse also drops out of the matchday 23 after making his comeback from injury against the Irish.
Romania, meanwhile, have been dealt a huge blow ahead of the crunch clash. The Oaks will be without captain Mihai Macovei, who has been suspended for two weeks after being cited for dangerous play against Canada. Florin Surugiu is also out, having picked up a leg strain against the Canucks.
Luke McLean, Leonardo Sarto, Michele Campagnaro, Tommaso Benvenuti, Giovanbattista Venditti, Tommaso Allan, Edoardo Gori; Matias Aguero, Andrea Manici, Lorenzo Cittadini, Quintin Geldenhuys (captain), Josh Furno, Francesco Minto, Simone Favaro, Alessandro Zanni
Replacements: Davide Giazzon, Alberto De Marchi, Dario Chistolini, Valerio Bernabò, Samuela Vunisa, Guglielmo Palazzani, Carlo Canna, Enrico Bacchin
Catalin Fercu, Madalin Lemnaru, Paula Kinikinilau, Florin Vlaicu, Ionut Botezatu, Michael Wiringi, Valentin Calafeteanu, Mihaita Lazar, Otar Turashvili, Paulica Ion, Valentin Poparlan, Johannes van Heerden, Valentin Ursache (captain), Viorel Lucaci, Daniel Carpo
Replacements: Andrei Radoi, Andrei Ursache, Horatiu Pungea, Marius Antonescu, Stelian Burcea, Tudorel Bratu, Adrian Apostol, Csaba Gal
Both teams have been stripped of their captains for the clash but the pack is still going to be where this game is won and lost. Romania's remarkable comeback victory against Canada was built on their power up front, with Macovei's ability to snaffle possession and drive forward key. He didn't do it all on his own, however, and the game plan for the Oaks will still be the same. How his replacement, Daniel Carpo, and stand-in as skipper Valentin Ursache cope against a capable Italian back row could well be pivotal. If Carpo gets the better of Alessandro Zanni then Romania could well secure an upset.
*One of rugby's oldest fixtures, Italy and Romania have met 41 times since their first encounter back in 1934. Italy have won 22 and Romania 16. There have also been three draws -- including a 0-0 in 1937.
*While the overall win-rates are pretty even, Italy have dominated in recent history. The Oaks were in control in the 1970s and 80s, including a fixture-best four game winning streak between 1987 and 1990. But since then, Italy have won 10 of their 12 meetings.
*Even though Italy have won six more games in the history of this fixture, Romania lead the points for and against stats, with 612 to the Azzurri's 577 -- largely thanks to 69-0 and 44-0 wins in 1977 and 1979 respectively.
Italy are clear favourites with Unibet and offer little value at 1/10, but Romania are no pushovers and have a real chance at winning this match. Get the Oaks at a generous 13/2.
A sunny but chilly afternoon expected in Exeter on Sunday, with a few breaks of cloud. Temperatures hovering around 14 degrees Celcius.
Romania proved against Canada that they are up for a fight and, with Italy still licking their wounds from their defeat to Ireland, we fancy the Oaks to cause a shock in the Devon sunshine.