Russian rugby fans across the globe are viewing this fixture with great anticipation as in truth, this represents the country’s best chance of securing a win in their first ever Rugby World Cup. After all, a Russian victory in this fixture has previously been recorded, albeit back in 1988 with a 31 points to 16 win in Moscow.
Since then, the USA have won the following three matches although the margin of victory has reduced on each occasion.
Putting aside the traditional rivalries that exist between these two nations, many of which extend beyond the sporting arena, coach Nikolay Nerush and his men will be aware that a victory here is a serious possibility.
In a strong group, the USA kicked off their own campaign with a 22 – 10 defeat at the hands of Ireland in New Plymouth. While the margin of victory was comfortable in the end, there were signs that Russia’s optimism will be tested to the limit with a tough and experienced side, many of whom are playing their rugby at top flight level across Europe.
USA’s try in their opening match came courtesy of their versatile back Paul Emerich but it is widely acknowledged that their main threat against the Russians will come in the form of winger Takudzwa Ngwenya who currently plays in France for Biarritz.
Ngwenya was born in Zimbabwe but moved to the US nearly a decade ago. He is an exciting and dangerous man to have on the wing and while he was largely subdued against the Irish, he will relish the opportunity to make his mark against opposition that he will perceive as inferior.
Like most of his team mates, Ngwenya has World Cup experience that includes a stunning try against the South Africans in 2007. This factor could also work against the Russians who are appearing at their first tournament but it certainly won’t be an element that is preying on Nerush’s mind.
Russia for their part cannot match their opponents in terms of experience and they don’t have a squad that generally competes at the highest level of club rugby. In a match such as this therefore, they will be relying heavily on players such as Northampton’s Vasili Artemyev, Sale’s Andrei Ostrikov and Melbourne Rebels’ Adam Byrnes.
Outside of Russia, much of the rugby playing world is looking at Russia’s participation from a curiosity point of view and that has been underlined by the media attention given to Vyatcheslav Grachov.
The 38 year old forward is the oldest player at this world cup and one of the oldest of all time. He is also one of Russia’s most successful players with 14 international tries in his career to date.
Far from being a sideshow however, this Russian rugby team are here to make their mark but they will be aware that defeat against the US will condemn them to a long tournament against some truly world class opposition.
This is therefore a crucial game and one that gives them a real opportunity of a victory that would make the rest of the world take the sport of rugby in Russia much more seriously.
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