As Russia head towards their final game of this 2011 World Cup campaign, supporters will definitely argue that they have been a worthy addition to the tournament. While detractors will suggest that the so called minnows of world rugby have no place at this event, the lower ranked sides have shown that improvement is guaranteed by their participation in the World Cup and the margins of defeat are reducing all the time.
As for Russia themselves, a loss by 62 points to 12 against a much changed Irish team may seem heavy on paper, but there were many reasons why fans of Russian rugby can be confident of steady improvement throughout the next four years.
However, renewed optimism aside, it’s now time for the toughest test of all as Nikolay Nerush’s side take on Australia in Nelson on Saturday October the 1st. The really bad news from a Russian perspective is the fact that the Wallabies have much to play for after their 15-6 defeat at the hands of Ireland. A win for Australia will see Brian O’Driscoll and his side needing to beat Italy the following day in order to top the group.
Of course, nobody really expects Russia to get a positive result from this game but the fact that their opponents need the win so badly could see them field a first choice XV that will be ruthless in all areas of their play.
So what can Russia really expect from this match? As with their previous games, while a defeat is to be expected, getting some points on the board is important and crossing the opponents’ try line isn’t beyond the capabilities of this Russian side.
Against Ireland, many of the Bears’ players rose to the challenge and produced their best game of the tournament to date. The newly formed front five were particularly resilient after changes were made in the wake of the Italy defeat and Russia showed here that they can defend as a unit.
In attack, Vasili Artemyev showed just why he is a Premiership club player and he was ably supported by Aleksandr Yanyuskin at scrum half and Vladimir Ostroushko on the wing. The real ‘find’ of the day however was Denis Simplikevich who crossed for Russia’s second try of the match against Ireland.
It’s hard to believe that Simplikevich was making his debut and his assured performance will have made many European clubs take notice. Therein lies another issue and another reason why this Russian side may not be the pushover that the Wallabies are expecting.
European scouts will be out in force at this world cup in the search for new talent and many of the Russian players will have fallen under their radar. A good performance in this final match could seal some lucrative deals for the likes of Yanyushkin, Simplikevich and others.
Selfish reasons aside, there is no reason why another solid team performance can’t test Australia this weekend. A sizeable defeat is to be expected but a repeat of the Ireland performance will be a perfect way in which to end Russia’s 2011 World Cup adventure.
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