x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Russians raring to start their Rugby World Cup challenge

Russia begin their World Cup with a match against the United States in Pool C.

Todd Clever, centre, expects a confident display from the United States today.
Todd Clever, centre, expects a confident display from the United States today.

After the longest wait of any team in the tournament, Vladislav Korshunov, the Russian captain, and his teammates will finally make their debuts at the Rugby World Cup in a Pool C match against the United States today.

The other 19 teams will have already played by the time the match kicks off in New Plymouth and the Russians are desperate to get into match mode so they can stop fielding questions about Cold War connotations for the match.

"This is a game to see which side is the better rugby team," Zonik Masandilov, the Russian manager, said. "Nothing more."

The US opened their campaign with a 22-10 loss to Ireland on Sunday, only hours after attending a commemoration service for the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and will have gained confidence from their tough first match against the Irish.

"Confidence is there in the way we put together a lot of phases of play, but we have to keep that going and not take any steps back," Todd Clever, the US captain, said.

"We set the bar and hopefully we can continue to raise it."

Kingsley Jones, Russia's coaching director, said while it was good to be fresh going into a match, the long wait to get started had been tough for his squad.

"There is an edge in training since we got here and particularly since the tournament started - the game cannot come soon enough, I think," he said. "It's a massive game and I think we could not have wished for a better opponent to start the tournament."

With both teams targeting this as a must-win game, Eddie O'Sullivan, the US coach, made just three changes to his starting line-up from the side that went down by 12 points to Ireland.

After struggling in the scrums against Ireland, two of the changes come in the front row, where Chris Biller comes in at hooker and Matekitonga Moeakiola at tight-head prop.

"There isn't a huge difference between guys, and our starting front row changes all the time," O'Sullivan said of his reasons for the switches.

The other change is at full-back where Chris Wyles replaces Blaine Scully, who drops to the bench.

Perhaps the US's biggest potential problem is the four-day turnaround that they face between matches.

"There was a bit of delayed onset of fatigue coming through but we didn't do much today and we'll have a light run through tomorrow," O'Sullivan said yesterday.

The eight-day break the United States will get before their next match against Australia meant they could throw everything at Russia, he said.