Russians closing gap, aiming for debut glory
NEW PLYMOUTH, 14 Sept. - In the political sphere the USA and Russia are regarded as superpowers, but in international rugby, at least for the moment, they are seen as minnows.
All of that, however, will be irrelevant when they face each other in their Pool C match at Stadium Taranaki on Thursday.
In a match that has been dubbed “the clash of the superpowers”, both teams are eager to leave their mark at Rugby World Cup 2011.
USA lost their first match 22-10 against Ireland last Sunday, while Russia, the last team to take the field in the tournament, can win their debut RWC match.
Russia’s Welsh team director Kingsley Jones has no doubt his team can achieve that milestone.
“This is the best team to challenge the USA,” Jones said. “At the start for us, it’s about primary possession. We believe we can play rugby and we can cause problems for the opposition team, but without the ball, that is going to be difficult.”
Russia have lost all three of their encounters with the USA , but the Bears have reduced the margin each time; from 30 points in 2004, to 17 last year and just seven in June.
Captain and hooker Vladislav Korshunov, second row Alexander Voytov and scrum half Alexander Shakirov have been selected for Thursday’s match and have played in all three previous matches against USA.
The only setback to the Bears’ World Cup campaign has been the minor shoulder injury that ruled out second row Andrey Ostrikov.
Australian-born second row Adam Byrnes, whose mother is Russian, could come off the bench to make his international Test debut.
USA head coach Eddie O’Sullivan has brought in some fresh legs after the intense clash with Ireland. Hooker Chris Biller and prop Matekitonga Moeakiola replace Phil Thiel and Shawn Pittman.
Chris Wyles returns from injury and takes Blaine Scully’s place at full back.
O’Sullivan hopes that the changes will improve the USA’s scrum, which was regularly overpowered by Ireland on Sunday.
Batten down the hatches
“Russia will be a challenge. We played them in the Churchill Cup this year and they have a strong scrummaging pack,'' he said.
"So it’s going to be a challenge for us to batten down the hatches there.
“We need to get back on the horse and make sure we can at least break even at the set piece.
"Like any game of rugby, if your set piece creaks, it’s going to be a tough battle for 80 minutes.”
The Pool C match has attracted some high-profile interest from the Russian political and social elite.
Russia's deputy prime minister Alexander Zhukov will attend the match and it has been rumoured that billionaire Roustam Tariko and current Miss Russia, Natalia Gantimurova, will be in New Plymouth for the occasion.
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