The disappointment on Russian faces at the end of this game underlined the mixed emotions that will be felt in the camp after this loss. On the positive side, there were three excellent tries that came about as a result of effective attack and there were some fine individual performances, notably from the replacement scrum half Aleksandr Yanyushkin. However, the Russian forwards were overrun by a second string Italian side and in the end, it was a game that could have yielded a positive result had defence been more solid.
From the kick off, Italy dominated and with the Bears camped in their own 22, it was no surprise when skipper Sergio Parisse crossed on the angle to score the first points of the game. With so many changes in the Italian line up, this was a game where Nikolay Nerush’s side would have held genuine hopes of competing but after only 17 minutes, the game was effectively gone. Three Italian tries had been run in through an almost non-existent defence and only the wayward kicking of Riccardo Bocchino kept the score down to 17 – 0.
Only then, did Russia come into the game and the class of Northampton Saints’ Vasili Artemyev was beginning to shine through. While the backs began to show their quality just a little, the forwards continued to struggle however and after a further try on 23 minutes, Italian dominance was highlighted six minutes later when the Russian scrum collapsed three times on their own line to concede a penalty try.
The next few minutes presented a curious juxtaposition for Russian supporters. On the one hand, the backs really began to dictate some play, orchestrated by Yanyuskin who was now on as replacement while at the other end of the scale, elementary errors including two barely believable forward passes were letting the Bears down.
Finally, Russia’s moment of history came just after the half hour mark. Another good break down the left saw Italy’s Ongaro sin binned for a late tackle on full back Klyuchnikov. With a penalty near Italy’s line and with a man advantage, Russia were never going to get a better chance of opening their account and it was Yanyushkin who seized the moment to wriggle through and score Russia’s first ever try at a World Cup tournament.
Rachkov converted but the joy was a little short lived as a converted try just before half time saw Italy go in 38 – 7 clear at the break.
Throughout the first half, there had been periods where Russian supporters had been concerned about capitulation and a hefty defeat but the try and Russia’s play after the break helped to allay those fears.
The play by now had settled into a pattern whereby possession was fairly even but Italy always looked likely to penetrate a fragile defence on the counter. That came to fruition on 49 minutes when Benvenuti crossed over to make it 43 – 7 but Russia were playing with renewed hope and just three minutes later they replied with their second try of the night.
From the restart the Bears had retained possession and as they created the overlap down the right hand side, a failed interception from Luke McLean allowed Vladimir Ostroushko to go over in the corner. Rachkov failed with the conversion but it mattered little to the score line or the renewed feeling of hope amongst the Russian support.
On 48 minutes, McLean atoned for his earlier error by scoring to make it 48 – 12 and while Russia’s forwards were being overrun in all areas of the pitch, the capitulation still failed to materialise.
Artemyev’s Premiership class was clear for all to see and on 71 minutes, his initial run was to set up Russia’s third try. This time there was no need for an Italian mistake to set them up as some good play in front of the posts was rewarded when a long Shakirov pass found Alexei Makovetsky free on the left to make the score 48 – 17.
The failed conversion attempt rather summed up Russia’s night when Rachkov looked on forlornly as the ball toppled off the tee. His subsequent sevens style attempt at the posts drifted wide.
The pattern of end to end tries came to a halt now as Italy began to camp in Russia’s half and after a final try from Alessandro Zanni wrapped up the match at 53 -12, the match petered out to the whistle.
In many ways it was credit to Russia that disappointment was clearly etched on the players’ faces at the end. It had been a curious mix of fine attacking mixed with basic errors and some poor defending but in the end, they can take great heart from the performance.
With some work in the scrum they can only improve from here and hopefully come back stronger in four years’ time. Yanyushkin was very much Russia’s man of the match and VVA-Podmoskovye may well need to find a replacement scrum half if European Scouts were paying attention to his performance.
Russia now head to Rotorua where they take on a buoyant Ireland side on September 25th.
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