Romania's comrades hardly the hottest tickets in town compared to days of defective communist regime

HAS Phil Anderton ever flogged refrigerators to the inhabitants of Alaska? Down sleeping bags to residents of Acapulco? Let’s hope so, for the Scottish Rugby Union’s commercial and marketing director will need the selling savvy of a Victor Kiam to shift tickets for Saturday’s match against Romania at Murrayfield.

This time last year the Romanians lost 134-0 to England at Twickenham after an 81-9 reverse against Wales at the Millennium Stadium. In recent weeks, their alleged leading club, Dinamo Bucharest, were trampled 154-0 (241-11 on aggregate) by Saracens in the Parker Pen Shield, and immediately withdrew from the competition. Bearing in mind that Romania used to beat France, Wales, and even Scotland on an irregular basis, it is apparent that the communist regime were not the only institution to topple with the Iron Curtain 13 years ago next month. Romanian rugby was once noted for its defectors; now it is all about defects, most of them in defence.

The 1989 demise of Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship signalled the end of Romanian rugby as anything approaching a world force after notable wins over Scotland’s Grand Slam team in 1984, Wales in Cardiff in 1988 and Italy in 1990, a mini-era that coincided with attempts by every east European state to score points, by fair means or foul, in major sporting arenas. Game plans in Romanian rugby of the time were based firmly on the grinding work of front fives.

One of them was the player with the highest profile, Christian Raducanu, who reflects: "Those were times long gone. Before the communist regime collapsed, big conglomerates backed the team, so they would look good in the eyes of the world. But when the gates opened, all the best players, all the cream, went elsewhere, mainly to France. There was no youth set-up, either."

Raducanu won eight caps for his country between 1985 and ’89, and is probably better known for events of the night of December 9, 1989, when after Romania’s 32-0 defeat by Scotland at Murrayfield, the 22-year-old forward slipped his minders at the official banquet, walked into Edinburgh’s High Street, and asked a patrolling policeman for political asylum.

The 6ft 6in lock was snapped up by Boroughmuir - a formidable recruiting force even in those days - and played alongside Meggetland stalwarts Sean Lineen and Norrie Rowan before heading south to join Headingley, Sale, and later Sedgley Park in Manchester, where he can still be found on most training nights.

Nowadays Raducanu, known universally as one of the most amiable and popular men in the sport, is running Pine Essentials, his furniture import business, and lives near former Scotland winger Tony Stanger in Leeds. He still has a a host of friends north of the Border.

"Those were good old times when we were young. Edinburgh is still in my heart, and people like Norrie Rowan looked after me then. I worked for him on a building site, and he let me drive his Porsche from time to time. I really enjoyed my time at Boroughmuir.

"When I defected it was a spur-of-the-moment thing, because my family were still in Romania, but life was very tough there at the time.

"I had had quite a few drinks at the official banquet, and I just approached the first policeman I saw and asked for political asylum. He thought I was drunk. Two weeks later the communist regime in Romania collapsed, and all the barriers began to come down."

Now 35, Raducanu plays rarely after problems with an enduring knee injury ("14 operations so far") but is considering a trip north for Saturday’s international. He admits: "I don’t know much about players in the Romanian team now. I think it will be more of a social visit."

Most of Romania’s better players now earn a living in France, and only two of the humbled Bucharest team made it into the side that were beaten by Wales in Wrexham on Friday night. One of the forwards, in fact, did a Raducanu and vanished into central London after the Saracens match, not to be seen again.

The Grenoble scrum-half, Petre Mitu, and Aurrilac’s centre Romeo Gontineac are their most potent players and Romania have qualified for the 2003 World Cup, courtesy of a defeat of Spain recently.

The Scotland coach Ian McGeechan, despite his claims that Romania offer a "challenge", is unlikely to lose much sleep over this forthcoming encounter. As Wales sold only 20,00 tickets at Wrexham, the main head-scratching at Murrayfield in the week ahead will be in the office of Anderton.

So stand by for fireworks - off the field, at least.