Rugby World Cup: Ireland need statement victory in no-win game against Russia
Psychological pick-me-up and vital bonus point are there for the taking in Kobe
Johnny Sexton kicks at goal during Wednesday’s Captain’s Run at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in Japan. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ireland v Russia
Venue: Kobe Stadium.
Kick-off: 7.15pm local time/11.15am Irish time.
On TV: Live on Eir and RTÉ (ROI) and ITV (NI) and live radio commentary from RTÉ Radio (ROI) and BBC (NI).
Live Blog: From 10.30am on irishtimes.com/sport
Although it’s something of a no-win game, Ireland are back in increasingly familiar territory in needing a statement victory. Indeed, the need is so acute that the five-day turnaround may even be a blessing to some degree.
Ireland go into this game knowing that a bonus-point win over Russia would leave them requiring a victory of any hue against Samoa nine days hence in Fukuoka to secure a place in the quarter-finals, given Scotland’s maximum points haul would be 15, and Ireland have the better head-to-head record by dint of their 27-3 win over the Scots. So there is significant tangible reward as well as some psychological pick-me-up to be gleaned from this match.
The conditions in the enclosed Kobe Oven may not make for especially pleasant viewing – witness the 30 handling errors in the England-USA game and the 35 in Scotland’s bonus-point win over Samoa last Monday – but the latter also gave a template as to how the sweat-soaked ball and committed, physical opponents can be mastered.
After half-an-hour of largely unbroken if unrewarded dominance, they took to the air with three successive kicks for their breakthrough try and then resorted to their maul in the second half.
As they’ve shown in their games against Japan and Samoa, when they led in both matches, Russia will bring plenty of physicality and will tackle forever. They’ll also bring the same desire for collisions in possession with plenty of straight running and little in the way of side-stepping. Although the Bears have shown an ability to provide more subtlety and find space against lesser opposition, that has not been apparent at this World Cup, even when briefly playing 13 men against Samoa.
After going with an unchanged starting XV and bench for those opening two games, despite a four-day turnaround, Lyn Jones has made 11 changes to his team. The ex-Blackrock and Leinster academy player Vasily Artemyev, who was a try-scorer when Ireland beat Russia 62-12 in the 2011 World Cup and is his country’s all-time record try scorer with 29, is one of seven survivors in their match-day squad from that encounter.
The others are hooker Evgeny Matveev, lock Andrei Garbuzov, number 8 Victor Gresev, left-winger Denis Simplikevich, who was Russia’s other try scorer in the 2011 meeting when making his test debut, and on the bench Andrei Ostrikov and centre Vladimir Ostroushko. Artemyev captains the side in his seventh successive World Cup start, a feat matched by another bulwark, lock Garbuzov.
As for Ireland, Keith Earls – who needs one try to move above Tommy Bowe as Ireland’s second highest try scorer of all time – scored two tries that night. Others to have featured on that occasion were Johnny Sexton, who kicked one conversion as a replacement, and Sean Cronin, who is amongst Ireland’s replacements this time.
As evidence of the Bears’ physicality, their tighthead Kirill Gotovtsev is a former wrestler who won a bronze medal in the European championships and was also a brakeman in bobsleigh. The 32-year-old only took up the game in 2014, but for which Mark McDermott reckons he could have been a professional in one of the main leagues in Europe.
Their most impressive player in those opening two games, Tagir Gadzhiev, is an ex-martial arts fighter who didn’t take up rugby until he was 18. He’s very strong over the ball, runs good lines and is highly aggressive in defence. Their Sale Sharks loose-head, Valery Morozov, has been kept in reserve on the bench after starting the previous two games. He switched from volleyball to rugby at the age 14, but was only converted from an “8” to a prop when joining Enisey four years ago. There’s a YouTube video of him scoring a barnstorming 80-metre try against Krasny Yar and earlier this year he joined Sale.
Most elusive runner
Their scrumhalf Dmitry Perov brings a running threat, and the outhalf Ramil Gaisin has come into the team and is more of a running threat than the man he replaced, Yuri Kushnarev, a kicking out-half. Their inside centre Kirill Golosnitskiy, who has played the opening two games on the left wing, is a strong carrier, as well as being their most elusive runner, Artemyev has also improved immeasurably in the air since his Leinster days.
But the Bears have tended to leave him covering plenty of ground in the backfield on his own, so there could be scope for Luke McGrath and Johnny Sexton to find space. Indeed, à la Scotland then, for Ireland this will also be about being smart.
On the premise Ireland will rediscover their line speed in defence and are aggressive in the tackle, Russia will probably again struggle after three or four phases. Then it will be a case of using the space in the back field, pinning Russia in their own 22, going after their lineout, and putting them under pressure.
Had Ireland beaten Japan there might well have been a risk of complacency, even with a much-changed side. But, as defence coach Andy Farrell intimated, last Saturday’s damaging defeat by Japan should rule that out.
“We look back to our last result, that’s enough, you know. It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing against this week, whether it’s Russia or New Zealand. The same applies, it’s about getting back on the horse and putting in a performance.”
Given the conditions, this might not be on the scale of the 50-point win in Rotorua in 2011, but Russia have lost their six World Cup matches by an average margin of 31 points. Something along those lines, with that bonus point, would suffice.
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (Leinster); Andrew Conway (Munster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), Keith Earls (Munster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster, capt), Luke McGrath (Leinster); Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Niall Scannell (Munster), John Ryan (Munster); Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Jean Kleyn (Munster); Rhys Ruddock (Leinster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Jordi Murphy (Ulster).
Replacements: Seán Cronin (Leinster), Andrew Porter (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), CJ Stander (Munster), Joey Carbery (Munster), Jack Carty (Connacht), Jordan Larmour (Leinster).
Russia: Vasily Artemyev (Krasny Yar capt); German Davydov (VVA-Saracens), Igor Galinovskiy (Krasny Yar), Kirill Golosnitskiy (Krasny Yar), Denis Simplikevich (Enisey-STM); Ramil Gaisin (Ramil Gaisin), Dmitry Perov (VVA-Saracens); Andrei Polivalov (VVA Saracens), Evgeny Matveev (VVA-Podmoskovye), Kirill Gotovtsev (Krasny Yar); Andrey Garbuzov (Krasny Yar), Bogdan Fedotko (Krasny Yar); Anton Sychev (Metallurg), Tagir Gadzhiev (RC Guban), Victor Gresev (Krasny Yar).
Replacements: Stanislav Selskii (Enisey-STM), Valery Morozov (Sale Sharks), Vladimir Podrezov (VVA Saracens), Andrey Ostrikov (Grenoble), Evgeny Elgin (Enisey-STM), Sergey Ianiushkin (Lokomotiv Penza), Roman Khodin (Kuban), Vladimir Ostroushko (Kuban).
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Previous meetings: (2002, RWC qualifier, Krasnodar) Russia 3 Ireland 3; (2011 World Cup, Rotorua) Ireland 62 Russia 12.
Results so far: Ireland – won 27-3 v Scotland, lost 12-19 v Japan. Russia – lost 10-30 v Japan, lost 9-34 v Samoa.
Betting: 1/1000 Ireland, 100/1 Draw, 100/1 Russia. Handicap odds (Russia + 53 pts), Evens Ireland, 18/1 Draw, Evens Russia.
Forecast: Ireland to win with a bonus point.