NEW PLYMOUTH, New Zealand, September 15 – Rugby World Cup debutants Russia finally get their campaign under way on Thursday with an opening match against the United States.
But they are through to the 2011 tournament after qualifying second from Europe behind Georgia – their big rivals and former teammates in Soviet days.
It is sure to be a tough task for the Russians against the Americans, who impressed despite losing their opener 22-10 against Ireland.
“The USA are the favourites for this match,” said Russian team director Kingsley Jones.
“They are a good side and they have got some very good players playing at a good level, but we believe we have a very good chance of getting a win.
“But we have to play at our best to get the first upset (of this tournament).”
The Welshman added: “We have worked hard on getting things right but we have all learned that mistakes at this (the World Cup) level cost you dearly.
“We played a tough tour in the UK and we didn’t get a win, which we would have liked to get, but we certainly learned a lot on that high level.”
For lock Andrey Ostrikov, the wait to play the opening game – the last side of the 20 sides here to get going – was excruciating.
“Watching the first games of the World Cup made me look forward to the first game in New Plymouth,” said Ostrikov, who has signed for English premiership club Sale next season.
“I don’t like it that we are the last to start in the tournament. Anyway, we know that we will have to keep up the high level of play that the other teams have showed so far.”
Head coach Nikolay Nerush added: “I look forward to seeing how my players will react to the World Cup. We can be ready tactically but, to achieve a good result, we should also be mentally consistent.
“This competition will show the result of the work that was carried out by the Russian rugby union and the country’s various clubs.”
US captain Todd Clever was left buoyed by his team’s performance against Ireland but concerned by an under-powered scrum display.
“I thought we played really well, and played with a lot of heart,” said Clever.
“We’re having trouble in the scrum. It’s tough to say (what went wrong). It’s maybe the timing. We got beat by the hit a few times.
“It’s definitely something we have to focus on – that and some of the other set-pieces.
“Russia are a big side and it’s definitely one of the things we need to nail down, to make sure we win our own ball and get possession.”
Veteran centre Paul Emerick added: “A loss is a loss, it’s not a win. We did some good things.
“If we can keep doing those good things and then start fixing the little low things that we haven’t been doing so well, Russia is going to be a good game for us.
“It’s a pretty quick turnaround, but we’ll keep the momentum going. Every game in the World Cup we want to give a spirited performance.”
Australia beat Italy 32-6 in the first Pool C game, and Russia will meet the Italians in Nelson on Tuesday in a very quick turnaround, while the Americans play the Wallabies on September 23 in Wellington.