Russia make their Rugby World Cup debut on Thursday when they take on Eddie O’Sullivan’s USA Eagles in New Plymouth, kick off 8.30am Irish time.
No matter what the score line or result, Thursday’s Pool B clash will go down in Russian rugby history as they take part in their first ever World Cup match and will look to get off to the perfect start but USA will provide a stiff opposition for the debutants. Russia are on the rise as a rugby nation and this has been emphasised by the climb up the IRB rankings.
They currently lie in 19th position and will look to show their talents on the World stage. They are side built around their huge pack and will look to take the game to the Eagles.
USA showed their abilities in what was a fantastic performance against Ireland and coach Eddie O’Sullivan praised his players on what was an emotional day. It will be another emotional day on Thursday but this time for their opposition. Be sure though that neither side will get caught up in the emotion of it all as they search for a win.
Inevitably Russia’s players are unknown quantities but there are two Russians who play their rugby in England. Vasily Artemiev now of Northampton and Andrei Ostrikov of the Sale Sharks will be the Bears’ main threats and key figures. The two countries are familiar foes in rugby terms. They have met twice in the last two years with USA winning the last three meetings.
O’Sullivan has made three changes to the team that did battle with Ireland, with prop Shawn Pittman and hooker Phil Thiel replaced by Matekitonga Moeakiola and Chris Biller respectively. Pittman and Thiel both drop to the bench. In the only alteration to the back-line, Saracens full-back Chris Wyles is in for Blaine Scully who has to make do with a spot amongst the replacements.
Players to Watch:
Saracens full back Chris Wyles comes into the team and he has an abundance of talent. He has scored over 70 points in the Premiership and will look to add a World Cup try to his CV. He can use his pace to great advantage against a robust Russian side.
Winger Vasily Artemyev will be Russia’s main man when the ball goes out to the backs. In a game that could be dominated by the forwards, the backs will need to take advantage of the ball they do get and the Northampton winger is very capable of that. He learned his rugby in Ireland after moving from Russia and the 24 year old who is 6ft and 191lb will be now push over with the ball in hand.
USA should have too much for Russia. Their fitness and big game experience should mean they win by at least 5 points.
Russia: 15 Igor Klyuchnikov, 14 Vladimir Ostroushko, 13 Konstantin Rachkov, 12 Alexey Makovetskiy, 11 Vasily Artemyev, 10 Yury Kushnarev, 9 Alexander Shakirov, 8 Vyacheslav Grachev, 7 Artem Fatakhov, 6 Andrey Garbuzov, 5 Denis Antonov, 4 Alexander Voytov, 3 Ivan Prishchepenko, 2 Vladislav Korshunov (c), 1 Sergey Popov.
Replacements: 16 Valery Tsnobiladze, 17 Alexander Khrokin, 18 Vladmimir Botvinnikov, 19 Adam Byrnes, 20 Victor Gresev, 21 Alexander Yanyushkin, 22 Andrey Kuzin.
USA: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 13 Paul Emerick, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 James Paterson, 10 Roland Suniula, 9 Mike Petri, 8 Nic Johnson, 7 Todd Clever (c), 6 Louis Stanfill, 5 Hayden Smith, 4 John van der Giessen, 3 Matekitonga Moeakiola, 2 Chris Biller, 1 Mike MacDonald.
Replacements: 16 Phil Thiel, 17 Shawn Pittman, 18 Scott LaValla, 19 Pat Danahy, 20 Tim Usasz, 21 Nese Malifa, 22 Blaine Scully.
Date: Thursday, September 15
Kick-off: 19:30 (07:30 GMT)
Venue: Stadium Taranaki, New Plymouth
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)