When he was playing and coaching at a grassroots level in Scotland a few years ago and working in IT sales, being part of a Rugby World Cup in any capacity seemed like a pipe dream for Paul Larter.
However, over the last decade since Murray Fleming [Edinburgh's former Performance Analyst] took him under his wing, Larter’s own career as a rugby analyst has really taken off and it has led to him being a part of the Romania squad at the showpiece event in France.
The Romanians have already played two of the best teams in the world in the shape of Ireland and South Africa in Pool B, going down to 82-8 and 76-0 defeats in Bordeaux respectively, but their heads have not dropped.
After a bye week, the players from the 19th-ranked team in the world are refreshed and ready for another tough test against Scotland in the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille on Saturday evening.
They then end their Pool B involvement versus Tonga at the same venue on October 8, but it is the Scottish clash that is at the forefront of the minds of head coach Eugen Apjok and co just now.
Before the tournament, Apjok brought on board former Scotland head coach Vern Cotter as a consultant, but Romania already had a Scot on the staff with lead analyst Larter having been involved with them since late 2020.
"I have been asked a lot of times in recent weeks how I’ll feel going up against Scotland the country I have supported my whole life and it’ll be a strange one, but also a memorable occasion,” says Larter, who back home played for Biggar and Livingston and coached the likes of Broughton, Edinburgh Northern, Falkirk, Boroughmuir and Boroughmuir Bears.
ICYMI | Tier 2 nations have shown spirit at #RWC2023 but you can't help but feel Romania's belief would have taken a knock over the last week.— Talking Rugby Union (@TalkRugbyUnion) September 17, 2023
The Springboks showed no mercy as they flexed their muscles ahead of Paris showdown with Ireland #RSA #ROU https://t.co/Wki6RCWXRE pic.twitter.com/OdEHqF9CBV
"When I went to the Scotland-Ireland game during the Six Nations, I wore my Romania jacket just to see what it would feel like watching Scotland play while I had the colours of my adopted country on in preparation!
"Seriously though, for our first two matches at this tournament, I have been down on the touchline and it will be the same this weekend, so it’ll be strange being so close to the Scotland guys as they sing the national anthem.
“Do I sing Flower of Scotland? Do I hum it to myself? It is not very often you get the chance to come up against your home nation in a sporting context and having done some work for Scottish Rugby before, I know a lot of the guys in the squad and in their management team.
"Due to that, I’m sure there will be a bit of banter on the day and then hopefully afterwards we can share a beer and enjoy the experience. I owe a lot to Murray Fleming who was the lead analyst with Edinburgh back in 2013 because he helped me dip my toe into being an analyst around a pro environment and things just went from there thanks to that chance.
"It has been a bit of a roundabout journey for me to get to here, but now I am at a World Cup, I am just taking every moment of it in.
"When Stevie Scott [the Scot who was then Romania forwards coach alongside then head coach Andy Robinson] called me up in late 2020 and asked me if I’d like to get involved with Romania, I saw it as an interesting opportunity and a few years later I’m glad I did get involved.
"I’m a proud Scot and I’m also proud to be involved with Romania and it’ll be a great day on Saturday."
As mentioned, Romania have been on the wrong end of two big scores so far, but just making it to the big event is a boost for rugby in their country.
Larter, whose full-time job is as rugby operations manager for the United Rugby Championship, believes there is real talent in the Romania squad and feels they could flourish if they were given opportunities at higher levels more regularly.
"Around 60 per cent of our squad come from the Romanian league and, with no disrespect to the Romanian league because there is some great work going on in the country to keep building, they are playing at that level while guys from the other international teams are playing in pro leagues around the world and playing with and against each other regularly,” the 39-year-old said.
"We need to try and find a way to give the Romanian players more exposure to a higher level of rugby. There are some fantastic players in our squad, they just need the opportunity and the platform to show people that.
"In general, the World Cup experience has been an amazing one so far. I have never experienced a World Cup in a professional capacity before so everything is new and exciting.
“We have been based in Bordeaux, and training in Libourne about 30km away for the last few weeks and it is a lovely spot, everyone around here has been very helpful to us.
"We move up to Lille on Thursday [today] and we will stay there until the end of our tournament because the last two matches are there against Scotland and then Tonga.
"The results so far haven’t gone the way that we wanted them to, but we have played Ireland and South Africa so far and when you look at the game between the two of them last Saturday night, it was a proper Test match and there is a reason why they are two of the best teams in the world.
"The players have learnt more in 160 minutes in the World Cup so far than they will have learnt all season long. Against Ireland, we knew they were going to kick and we planned to focus on not getting bored being boring. We took the lead through a try after three minutes [via Gabriel Rupanu] and then Ireland began to show their class and just took things away from us.
"We were disappointed after that game, but we were pleased with little things that we had tried that had come off.
"I think after the South Africa game, there was a few guys hurting and there was a lot of soul searching on the Monday and Tuesday after and it was good to have a few days off.
"The boys were able to switch off a bit and then came back into things with some good training sessions and a team bonding session at the end of last week. That positivity has spilt over into this week and we are in a good place and looking forward to the Scotland game now."