Russia v Argentina Rugby
The 2011 Rugby World Cup is in just nine months, and the buildup is well under way. Russia did extremely well to qualify, and now face a steep learning curve before they meet the top nations. In October, they started with two home games against Argentina, before heading for Japan and acclimatisation in New Zealand, the host country. Both teams fielded experimental sides, and the Pumas used their development team name, The Jaguars, to reflect this. After losing 40-20 in the first game, the Russian team were intending to step up a gear for the rematch. Awesomely powerful scrummaging is the rock of Argentine rugby, but the home pack competed impressively. With tackling tight across the midfield, and surprisingly poor positional and place kicking, half time saw the Russians hold them very well, at only 10-6 and one try down. Throughout the game, the back row trio Viktor, Kirill and Nikita impressed visibly, while the front five were practising the dark arts unseen but well appreciated. The scrum half Alexander Janjushkin and outside centre Vasily Artemev looked sharp, but Russia’s hero was the full back Igor Kljuchnikov, who took endless high balls under extreme pressure and led most of the best counter attacks. After half time, the superior experience of the visitors started to tell. Their backs were sharper and played together well. As the game reds tired, and they used substitutes providing power not pace, gaps started appearing. In a disappointing finish, the Jaguars ran in tries regularly, and finished 32-6 ahead.
Experienced coach Steve Diamond was disappointed but realistic after the game, well hosted at Slava’s ground: “We’re building on a very thin foundation. None of these boys gets the quality experience they need from club rugby, so the step up to internationals is huge. We are very short of teamwork and facilities, and need more fitness equipment, cones and balls. The team have potential, and tests like today enable them to learn by seeing real quality at first hand.”
Russia have the European Nations and the Churchill Cup tournaments coming up in 2011, and then their two big RWC games are against the USA on 15 September and Italy five days later. These will show how far they have progressed. An exciting season for Russian rugby has started.