Russia took a giant step towards qualification for the Rugby World Cup by edging Portugal 14-10 in a tense encounter in Sochi this weekend.
Playing in atrocious conditions – one commenter said that “the field looked as if herds of cattle had danced on it for some time. It was impossible game.” – Russia took an early lead after scrum half Sergei Yanyushkin broke through on the left wing to take the score to 5-0 after 20 minutes. The rest of the first half was a pretty dour affair – each side traded a single penalty to leave Russia ahead 8-3 at the interval.
Russia continued to use the weather to their advantage, and their forwards ground away for most of the second half. Two more penalties by fly-half Yury Kushnarev took Russia into what seemed a commanding 14-3 lead with just 13 minutes left to play.
Portugal had other ideas, though, and refused to give up the ghost. Portugal’s Australian born full-back Adrian Gardner, who had an excellent game throughout, crossed the line and then converted his own try to bring Portugal back in striking distance at 14-10. Alas, for Portugal, that was the end of the game’s scoring. Try as they might during the last quarter of an hour, they couldn’t break down the determined Russian defence.
The result, combined with Georgia’s expected 77-3 demolition of bottom placed Germany, leaves Russia in second place in the European Nations Cup table. Still a single point behind leaders Georgia, but a comfortable three points ahead of rivals Portugal, who now need a miracle to secure automatic qualification to next year’s World Cup.
Romania and Spain’s positions remain unchanged after their weekend match was called off due to bad weather.[table id=3 /]
This weekend see’s Russia travel to Spain for a match that, although it won’t be easy, they should win. Portugal, meanwhile, host Georgia. This is a must win game for Portugal and, considering that they tied 20-20 with Georgia in Tbilisi last year, is a result that will be difficult to predict.