Russia’s European Nations Cup campaign suffered a major blow this weekend when they were beaten 21:19 at home by Portugal. The result leaves Russia in third place in the table, a full five points behind Georgia, who crushed a normally pretty good Spanish team 60:0.
The match started pretty tamely, with both sides trading penalties early on, and Russia edging their way into a 9-6 lead on the 27th minute, courtesy of fly-half Yuri Kushnarev’s accurate boot.
The game was turned on its head, though, by two Portugese tries, one either side of the interval. A quick penalty and Portugal were soon 21-9 ahead, and looking comfortable.
A quick Vasily Artemyev try in reply brought Russia within seven points, though, and set up a grandstand finish. Needing just a converted try to tie the game, Russia attacked relentlessly as the game wore on. Five minutes into injury time, just as it seemed too late, a second Russian try brought them within two points, but Russian hearts were broken when Kushnarev couldn’t convert for the extra two points.
Here are some (silent) video highlights of the four tries.
The Russian team will be gutted by this result (especially because the first Portugese try was scored from a blatant forward pass), but truth be told it’s not that much of a surprise. They’ve looked a bit shaky since coach Steve Diamond returned to England. But the real culprit in this defeat surely has to be the Russian Rugby Union, who chose to play a home game in Sochi, thousands of miles away from their Siberian rugby heartland. The result, a grand total of 85 spectators turned up, and I’d be surprised if at least half of them weren’t Portuguese. OK, Russia may want to promote Sochi as its premier sporting venue, but for rugby, it’s proved a disaster. I’m not sure where Russia’s next home game will be played, but I pray that it’s nowhere near the new Russian Olympic city!
To put the low turnout in perspective, consider that 15,000 fans turned out to watch Georgia romp home in Tbilisi, and the lowest turnout so far in this year’s European Nations Cup (other than in Sochi) was 3,000 in Portugal last weekend.
Georgia, by the way, are looking stunning. As Russia slide backwards, Georgia just get better and better. Spain aren’t one of the strongest teams in the Division, but last year the result in the same fixture was a close-run 17:9 victory for Georgia. Georgia’s first two wins this season, combined with impressive wins over both Canada and the USA in the off-season should give England, Scotland and Argentina, their opponents in this autumn’s Rugby World Cup, something to think about.
If Georgia keep performing at this level, they’ll surely need a more competitive tournament than the European Nations Cup. Promotion to the Six Nations isn’t realistic, but surely some more regular matches against tier one nations should be considered.
Here are the highlights of the Georgia game – lots of tries for you to enjoy.
That’s it for this week (in case you were wondering, the match between Ukraine and Romania was called off because of a frozen pitch). The ENC takes a break this weekend, but we’ll be back in two weeks time to bring you the results of Georgia’s trip to Portugal (could be a tight one, but Georgia should come home with a win), Russia’s trip to Romania (I wouldn’t bet the farm on a Russian victory, but you never know) and Ukraine’s trip to Spain (easy win for the Spanish).