EDINBUGH RUGBY have not yet spoken to Michael Doneghan ahead of this Saturday’s trip into the unknown to take on Timisoara Saracens in the European Challenge Cup, but if they are committed to leaving no stone unturned in order to avoid an embarrassing slip-up then it might be advisable to contact the 25-year-old centre-sum-winger, who has already played against the Romanian champions twice this season for national rivals CSM Baia Mare, and is currently close at hand during a week’s holiday back in his native Scotland.
“They are a very professional outfit and they have a big Pacific Islander influence so they will come with a lot of aggression, they won’t be scared to try things and they’ve got a good counter-attack,” says Doneghan, who started his rugby life playing in Linlithgow, then for Stewart’s Melville school and was capped for Scotland at under 18, 19 and 20 level.
“If I was one of their players I’d be thinking that this is a great stage to make a name for myself and hopefully earn a contract in one of the more established rugby nations, so they have everything to gain and nothing to lose which makes them a team I would definitely be wary of.”
“They’ve got Jody Rose, the Romanian national team stand-off [who is from South Africa and qualifies through residency] and he’s a really sharp operator, and they will have a couple of centres who will just come hard at you all day. Like all Romanian teams they will have a really physical and uncompromising pack. We played them in the second game of the season and we were winning but they just wouldn’t give up, and they ended up getting that second try they needed to win the game. So, I hope it will be a good test for Edinburgh.”
Doneghan landed in Romania at the start of this season in the latest instalment in a peripatetic rugby career which has previously seen him spend three years as an academy/EDP player with Glasgow Warriors, one season with Rotherham Titans followed by two with London Scottish in the English Championship, and one campaign with AS Macon in France.
“After that, I thought I would probably go back to play in the English Championship, but I spoke to my agent and he told me I had got a good offer through from this Romanian team I had never heard of, it was a three year deal which meant a bit of security. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I did some research into it and I spoke to a guy I played with in France who was Romanian, and in the end I decided: Why not? I just thought it was an interesting way to go,” he explains.
“I expected it to be around English National One or Scottish Premiership standard, but I’d actually rate it alongside the English Championship or the Pro D2 in France,” he says.
“There are seven teams in the league and they are all full-time. Certainly, in my team we train four days a week [Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday], have a rest day on Thursday, the captain’s run on the Friday, and the match on the Saturday.”
“All the games are televised, whether it is on live sports channels or streamed on the internet, and its free entry for anyone who wants to go watch the games. I think my team average maybe 800 people, so not far off a mid-Championship crowd.”
Learning the language is proving tricky but with plenty of English speakers kicking around the Romanian SuperLiga it has not taken him long to settle in.
“Baia Mare is a great town,” he says. “It’s probably about a similar size to Bathgate: it’s got a good nightlife, shopping mall, and all the usual stuff.”
“One of my coaches was telling me that back in the bad old days of communism he remembers having an hour of electricity a night. He wasn’t allowed to leave the country, he had to grow his own food in the garden because there was nothing on the shelves in the local shop – he said it was basically like North Korea. But it seems to me that they are doing a pretty good job of putting all that behind them. You see they have problems in their society, and there is a divide along racial lines, but as an outsider in their county you are absolutely safe.”
“The one real down side is getting around Romania. They don’t have motorways so the bus trip we will take to Bucharest, for example, takes about 11 or 12 hours. We go down on the Thursday, stay over and have the captain’s run on the Friday, play the game on the Saturday and travel back up on the Sunday. That’s pretty demanding and not something I am used to.”
“I’m the first Scotsman to play in the league, I believe. I think there is one other Brit [Englishman Jack Cobden plays on the wing for CSM Olimpia Bucuresti] but there are a lot of Tongans, South Africans and Australians,” he continues.
“It seems that when teams bring in foreign players it tends to be in the backs. I have played with and against some Romanian backs who are very good, but when we played against Timisoara last week it was like being back in Britain with both backlines chatting away to each other in English.”
“They have got rules that you can only have ten foreign players in the match-day squad, but then then there are a lot of guys like my friend Johannes van Heerden, who is a South African, but he has been there for five or six years and qualifies to play for Romania on residency grounds, so he doesn’t count as an overseas player anymore.”
This is a route Doneghan is keen to follow.
“I definitely see this as an opportunity to play international rugby,” he says. “In three years’ time I will hopefully make the World Cup, and if I do well then that might open doors for me back in France or the English Championship”
“I’ll be 28 by the time the next World Cup come along so if I manage to make that then why not try to get two World Cups in. And Romania have also got the Six Nations B [aka Rugby Europe International Championship] against the likes of Spain, Georgia and Russia, which is pretty exciting; and they play in the Nations Cup, which they won last year. So that would be pretty good fun and exciting to be involved in.”