As the only side ranked outside of the world’s top 20 going into RWC 2011, Russia's maiden appearance on the game’s greatest stage was always going to be an uphill struggle.
But while the Bears did not achieve a single victory in a pool containing experienced Rugby World Cup campaigners Australia, Ireland, Italy and the USA, they delivered four committed performances and scored some memorable tries during their time in New Zealand.
The USA, first up, at the Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth, was Russia’s best chance of winning a game but they came unstuck 13-6.
The Bears enjoyed an adrenaline-fuelled start to the game and it only took two minutes for Yury Kushnarev to score Russia’s first Rugby World Cup points from a penalty. However, Chris Wyles responded in kind for the Eagles before converting the only try of the game after Mike Petri finished off a sweeping move in the 18th minute.
Wyles kicked another penalty in the second half to open up a 10-point cushion as the rain continued to fall, before Kushnarev’s replacement Constantin Rachkov slotted a 40-metre kick late on as Russia desperately tried to mark their tournament debut with a win.
Next port of call
With Nelson boasting a large Italian community, Russia had the weight of support against them in their next fixture against the Azzurri at Trafalgar Park and, to give the match another nautical connotation, they were almost sunk without trace by half-time.
Italy enjoyed a 38-7 interval lead but at least Russia had managed to score their first Rugby World Cup try, replacement scrum-half Alexander Yanyushkin sniping over from close range in the 32nd minute.
Yanyushkin then turned provider as he helped to set up a try for Vladimir Ostroushko shortly after the restart before Alexei Makovetsky added another 10 minutes from the end.
Strong second-half displays continued to be a feature of Russia’s campaign as they bowed out with heavy defeats to Ireland (62-12) and Australia (68-22).
On another wet night in Rotorua, Russia trailed Ireland 36-0 at the break but tries from Vasily Artemyev and Denis Simplikevich, in the 48th and 59th minutes, lifted their spirits. The demands of playing three games in 11 days eventually told, however, and Ireland pulled clear against their visibly tiring opponents.
Russia returned to Nelson for their final pool game against Australia, and this time they enjoyed the support of the home crowd. Nevertheless, Australia dominated from the off and went into half-time 47-5 up, Russia’s only points coming from a Ostrushko try just past the half-hour mark.
The Bears refused to lie down, though, and following Rachkov’s drop goal, Simplikevich intercepted Quade Cooper’s errant pass to score his second try of the tournament. Rachkov kicked the extra two points and then converted his own score as Russia bowed out of the tournament with their heads held high.
Alexander Yanyushkin – scorer of Russia’s first-ever Rugby World Cup try
Qualifying for their first RWC after a 21-21 draw against Romania in Sochi in February 2010 guaranteed them a top-two finish in the European Nations Cup.
Missing out on the 2015 tournament after squandering a nine-point aggregate lead against repechage rivals Uruguay.
“We are taking part at the Rugby World Cup for the first time in our history and it was our debut match so there were a lot of emotions and we took these with us on to the field. To beat the USA in this match would have been really difficult for us, but we showed that it is at least possible. I am very proud of our effort, we lost the match, but we didn’t lose ourselves.” - Russia coach Nikolay Nerush after his side’s 13-6 loss to the USA at RWC 2011.
Seventy-four per cent of Russia’s points (42/57) at RWC 2011 were scored in the second half of matches.