While Russia’s football team have been stunning the football world with their performances in Euro 2008, Russia’s rugby team have been enduring a much rougher time in the 2008 IRB Nations Cup.
Russia finished bottom of the table, and went home with a great deal to think about. Three defeats from three games against opposition of a roughly similar level can hardly be seen as anything but a disappointment, but a young and experimental Russian side showed enough potential throughout the tournament to leave the Russian team able to look to the future with some confidence.
Italy A were expected to be a class above Russia and their 38-15 victory didn’t come as much of a surprise. Oddly enough, despite the high Italian scoreline, it was Russia’s defence that impressed most in this match – they certainly got plenty of practice.
The 13-12 defeat by Romania, though, will have hurt. Russia finished above Romania in the recent European Nations Cup (Six Nations B), and had won their two previous encounters. Home advantage for the Romanians, plus Russia’s inexperienced team made for an intriguing contest however, in which Russia’s attacking verve frustratingly failed to net them a single try.
Despite this, four penalties from the boot of scrum half Alexander Yanyuskin meant that Russia held a 12-6 lead with just over 10 minutes to play. Romania saved their best for last, though, and a late try from hooker Florin Tasca sent Romania into the final match with a chance of winning the tournament outright, and sent a dejected Russia into a last match battle to avoid the wooden spoon.
The final match saw Russia’s tournament go from bad to worse when they were beaten 23-19 by Uraguay. Again, Russia led late in the game – in fact, they looked to be cruising with an 18-9 lead, and only five minutes left on the clock. But Russia’s young team lost their composure – twice in quick succession Uraguay’s scrum overpowered the Russian forwards, who conceded two tries and handed victory to Uraguay, and the wooden spoon to Russia.
Perhaps most galling for Russia, though, will have been the performance of their biggest rival, Georgia, who pushed Emerging South Africa – the team of the tournament all the way before losing 11-3, and then absolutely crushed the Italy A team 25-3. Remember – this is the Italy A team that had hammered Russia in the first match of the tournament and the Georgia team that only just scraped past Russia to win the European Nations Cup in April.
Although Russia can draw some positives from this tournament, the Georgian players will have gone home absolutely bursting with pride and well deserved confidence. They’ll be actively planning how they are going to challenge some of the more established international teams, such as Tonga and Samoa and, no doubt, they’ll also be plotting how they can pull off a shock or two in the next World Cup…