Russia’s rugby union heroes departed from the 2011 World Cup with a stunning performance against Australia in Nelson. At one stage it looked as if the Bears would be heading for their record defeat but tries from Ostroushko, Simplikevich and Rachkov kept the score to a respectable 68 – 22 to Australia at the end and underlined the huge potential in Russian rugby as a whole.
From the kick off, the Wallabies were camped deep in Russian territory but the defence held firm until seven minutes when the back line parted to allow Berrick Barnes to cross over for the first try. Directly from the restart, Australia mounted another attack for Drew Mitchell to touch down in the corner and from that point it was one way Australian traffic.
The Russian defence had no answer to the free flowing, slick handling of their opponents and the gulf in class was beginning to show. By the 23rd minute the score had extended to 33 – 0 and fears of a record reverse and even a century of points were looking to be justified.
Up to this point, Russia had seen little of the ball going forward and had only briefly been in enemy territory from restart kicks. While the Russian defence was never going to be able to cope with the power and pace of the Wallaby backs, the Bears were desperate for some possession so it was a relief to now see an extended period of play taking place in the Australian half.
Crucially, Russia managed to keep the ball, close to their opponents’ line and although the Australian defence held firm, there were no handling errors to concede possession. Time after time, the forwards combined with the backs but there was no way through and eventually the ball spilled loose to be picked up by Luke Burgess.
It clearly looked as if a breakaway try was about to end this bright period of play but as Burgess looked inside, he lost his footing. The ball broke loose to Vladimir Ostroushko who skipped past Drew Mitchell and ran in from 30 metres to touch down in the corner.
There was ecstasy on Russian faces both on and off the pitch but it was no more than the side deserved after such a sustained period of pressure.
Unfortunately, the restart allowed Australia to enter Russia’s half once again and reply with two more tries of their own to take the score to 47 – 5 at half time.
The start of the second half mirrored that of the first to some extent but the Russian backs weren’t quite so generous in their defending. They conceded two more converted tries but the Bears enjoyed plenty of possession themselves and sandwiched between the Australian scores, Konstantin Rachkov nailed a drop goal to make the score 61 – 8 on the hour mark.
The real drama from a Russian perspective was yet to come however and on 61 minutes, Russia’s find of the tournament Denis Simplikevich intercepted a wayward pass Australian pass to run unchallenged before touching down under the posts.
Suddenly the momentum had changed: Australia had lost Drew Mitchell to a hamstring pull that looks to have ended his world cup and the error that let in Simplikevich seemed to alter the emphasis of the match.
Russia enjoyed possession straight from the restart and as they had done in the first half, they managed to keep the ball deep in Australian territory. This time there was no need for an Australian mistake to let them in as Rachkov burrowed his way over the line before adding the conversion to make it 61 -22.
Australia were clearly rattled but quelled the Russian momentum by making sure they kept possession for as much of the remaining 10 minutes as possible. As a result, the last period of the game was a little subdued until Barnes charged down a kick to make the final score 68 – 22.
So Russia’s heaviest defeat remains a 75 -3 reverse at the hands of Japan almost 12 months ago and on the basis of this showing, that record will stay intact for some time.
This Russian side will have won many fans with their performance today and it must be remembered that Australia weren’t holding back at any stage, nor were they in any way complacent after their early scores.
The final result will have been beyond the wildest dreams of any Russian fan but it was thoroughly deserved. Russia will now leave the world cup having fully justified their presence here but you can’t help wondering if they would have beaten the USA if they had played them at the end of the campaign when they had gathered form and momentum and not at the beginning when they looked to be caught cold.
Overall, Russian rugby can only benefit from this experience and if they can qualify for the 2015 tournament, they will come back much stronger.
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