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Last Updated: Friday, 26 September, 2003, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
Tofan relishes Parisien effect
Ionut Tofan
Tofan is Romania's answer to Jonny Wilkinson
Prior to the second World War Romania was hailed as the "Paris of the East".

But war-time bombings and the effects of the Nicolae Ceaucescu years have long seen the comparison to the French capital pass by the wayside.

Last year, in a bid to recapture the former town-twinning, Ionut Tofan, the Jonny Wilkinson of Romanian rugby, switched Bucharest for Paris in a bid to further his rugby career.

Now he plays for Metro Racing in the French capital, one of the top sides in France's second division.

And come the World Cup, Tofan, Romania's playmaker and points provider, will bid to bring his experiences of the two cities to good use.

"I love separating my time between Paris and Bucharest," he said. "Both are beautiful cities and I've enjoyed playing my rugby in both, but Bucharest has the edge. It's where my heart lies."

Tofan's 16-year rugby career first started when his father took him to practice in the Romanian capital.

The England game was the turning point - we're actually playing rugby now
Ionut Tofan

While he enjoyed both football and judo, it was rugby which hooked the 10-year-old.

"It wasn't all that popular among my friends then," he recalled, "But I really enjoyed it and have not been able to stop it ever since."

Apart from his climb up the international hierarchy at home, there have been few moments for Tofan to cheer about in recent years.

At the end of 2001, he was part of the side that was trounced 134-0 by England - one of the lowest points in Romania's rugby history.

However, that demise brought its own blessings in the form of Frenchman Bernard Charryere who, Tofan believes, is gradually turning around the side.

The 26-year-old said: "Since he arrived he has changed our lives in the squad. He's put the professional touch into Romanian rugby.

"Everything is more organised and the future for Romanian rugby looks good if the younger players are still helped to play.

"The England game was the turning point. Our coach arrived after that and we have since fared much better. We're actually playing rugby now."

Romania struggled to contain England back in 2001
Tofan believes Romania can more closely match their more experienced rivals

Charryere has been vital in turning around Tofan's career and allowing him to employ a more ambitious, attacking game.

Tofan and his team-mates have been helped in that cause by moves to clubs across France.

He added: "Few countries are better equipped than France from a professional perspective. There's just not enough top-level clubs in Romania to help us progress."

Many fear Romania could face the sort of scorelines dished out to them by England in 2001 when they take on their pool rivals Down Under in October.

Tofan, though, begs to differ.

He said: "Our primary goal is to beat Namibia and then play well against the other teams, who will be favourites against us.

"But we're not scared by them and our attitude has changed since the England game. We are playing more as equals."

The majority of pressure will rest on Tofan, who stands out from the rest of his team, although he insists he will enjoy himself rather than "get scared or pressurised".

Should his career eventually fizzle out, he has a sports degree to fall back on.

But whatever the outcome he intends to stay in the original Paris for the time being.





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