After a week of praise, high fives and general good vibes the Irish rugby team returns to World cup duty in the early hours of Sunday morning (6.00am Irish time) with one simple aim, to keep the momentum going.
Thankfully, that should be a relatively easy task as they face World cup debutants and minnows Russia.
The two sides have met on one previous occasion, a World cup qualifier back in 2002 which Ireland won comfortably, 35-3 aided by 15 points from Ronan O’Gara.
O’Gara, who was forced to backtrack on thinly veiled comments that this World cup campaign but would be his last in a green shirt, is set to start. The Munster star came off the bench to score a crucial penalty against Australia and so far in this tournament has outshone the inconsistent Jonathan Sexton.
The 34 year need’s just 14 points to overtake David Humphreys as Ireland’s record points scorer at a World cup with former Ulster star Humphreys racking up 70 points in the 1999 and 2003 World cups.
Having recorded their best ever defensive performance in a World cup with the concession of just 6 points against Australia Ireland will now set their sights on two others records as they looked to beat their previous best score at a World cup, 64-7 against Namibia in 2003 and also aim to emulate their record for three successive wins also achieved in 2003.
Ireland will bid to achieve those goals without experienced trio Paul O’Connell, Gordon D’Arcy and Tommy Bowe are struggling with injuries sustained in the clash with the Aussie’s and will sit this out with the Italy game just around the corner.
Russia meanwhile have won just two of 10 games in 2011, against fellow minnow’s Spain and Ukraine and come in to this game on the back on a midweek 53-17 loss to Italy. Despite that defeat there was still plenty to cheer about for the Russian who ran in three tries including their first ever at a world cup.
Those scores suggest that there is plenty of quality amongst their backs and Ireland will need to be wary of their attacking quality.
Irish rugby fan’s will be familiar with the name of Vasili Artemyev, the 24 year old who won junior and senior cup medals with Blackrock and the versatile back, now with English premiership side the Northampton Saints, is one of Russia’s most talented prospects.
Artemyev was at the heart of Russia’s fine attacking play against the Italians and he will need to carry that forward against the Irish if they are to have a chance at an upset.
Likewise replacement scrum half Aleksandr Yanyushkin, scorer of that historic first try, had an solid game against the Italian and he will hope he has done enough to make the starting lineup this time round.
This game represents a big test for the Russian and it will be their first World cup experience against a side in the World’s top eight, strong performances could lead to scouts all over Europe taking an interest in them, a result that would aid the development of the game and the national team.
The 7 point defeat at the hands of the USA means that unlike fellow emerging nations Romania, Georgia and Namibia the Russian have a point on the board.
As expected that Ireland have made a number of changes to their side for this tie, a total of 10 to be precise and with the likes of Tony Buckley, Leo Cullen, Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden and Andrew Trimble all pushing to play a major part in Ireland’s progress in New Zealand, Declan Kidney will be looking for a performance that presents more him with selection headaches ahead of the clash with the Italian’s.
Of the aforementioned 5, the case for the inclusion of Cullen and McFadden has been strong and the Leinster pair in particular will be out to prove a point especially for the moment, injury aside, Donnacha O’Callaghan and Gordon D’arcy continue to hold court with Declan Kidney although a strong performance could change that.
While Kidney will be keen for his back up players to get some action, and the experience agains the Bears will aid Ireland’s cause further down the line in the tournament, the former Munster coach will also be determined not to lose the momentum that the win over Australia has given to his squad.
A shakey performance will raise the questions asked in August while another strong perforamance will show the rest of the Rugby world that last weekend’s famous win was not a one off.