Thursday morning sees Russia make their Rugby World Cup debut. The Eastern Europeans are the only side in this year's tournament never to have made the finals in previous years; they will also be the last side to actually take to the pitch during this year's tournaments. That debut game will see the Russians up against a plucky USA side who impressed during their opening encounter against Ireland.
The Eagles can take great pride from their performance against Ireland. As with other second nation sides they were able to match one of the World's more established nation for large chunks of the game. What impressed most during the performance was the defence, led of course by captain Todd Clever. The long haired flanker was at the heart of the US defensive effort putting in huge tackles and creating havoc at the breakdown. There are elements of their performance that were lacking, for example the line-out stuttered and the attacking aspect of their game looked very one dimensional. Apart from Paul Emerick's interception try it is was hard to see how the USA would cross the whitewash to score.
However, one aspect of the Eagles' game that will disappoint and concern coach Eddie O'Sullivan was the scrum. The Irish pack were able to dominate the scrum from start to finish. On Thursday they will come up against a very strong Russian pack that will undoubtedly target the set pieces. In light of this O'Sullivan has made two changes in the front row. Hooker Chris Biller and prop Mate Moeakiola both enter the squad straight into the starting line-up. The only other change being the return of full back Chris Whyle who returns after a niggling ankle injury.
The Russian side, as you might expect, centres mainly around Russian based players. Whereas these players may not be widely known in the wider rugby community they are by no means sub-standard players. They are led by VVA-Podmoskovye's hooker Vladislav Korshunov who is considered a national hero amongst the Russian rugby community. He is, along with the rest of the pack, a powerful scrummager and will lead by example across the field. Expect Russia to play a very physical game, trying to wear down the Eagles' defence. Behind the scrum the Bears are more of an unknown package, but keep an eye on left wing Vasily Artemyev who, in March, became the first Russian to sign for an Aviva Premiership side when he agreed terms with Northampton.
For both sides the game presents the best chance of picking up a victory so expect both sides to fight tooth and nail to get a result. The sides last met earlier this year in the Churchill Cup bowl final; a game which saw the Eagles winning by a slender 7 points. Since that game Russia have played 4 warm-up games against British club sides conceding 40 points in each game. This is despite bringing on board coaches from across the World including Kingsley Jones and Henry Paul.
The Eagles will go into the game high in confidence following their performance against Ireland and have brought players in to sure up the scrum. This, paired with Russia's poor performances in the lead up to the tournament, leads me to believe that a US win is on the cards. Russia will of course play a huge part in the game and as mentioned earlier will try to grind out a win. However, Todd Clever's men are more than capable in defence to withstand the Russian onslaught and have more creativity behind the scrum.
My tip “ the USA to win by 13 points.
15 Chris Wyles, 14 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 13 Paul Emerick, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 James Paterson, 10 Roland Suniula, 9 Mike Petri, 1 Mike MacDonald, 2 Chris Biller, 3 Mate Moeakiola, 4 John van der Giessen, 5 Hayden Smith, 6 Louis Stanfill, 7 Todd Clever, 8 Nic Johnson
16 Phil Thiel, 17 Shawn Pittman, 18 Scott LaValla, 19 Pat Danahy, 20 Tim Usasz, 21 Nese Malifa, 22 Blaine Scully
15 Igor Klyuchnikov, 14 Vladimir Ostroushko, 13 Konstantin Rachkov, 12 Alexey Makovetskiy, 11 Vasily Artemyev, 10 Yury Kushnarev, 9 Alexander Shakirov, 1 Sergey Popov, 2 Vladislav Korshunov, 3 Ivan Prishchepenko, 4 Alexander Voytov, 5 Denis Antonov, 6 Andrey Garbuzov, 7 Artem Fatakhov, 8 Vyacheslav Grachev
16 Valery Tsnobiladze, 17 Alexander Khrokin, 18 Vladmimir Botvinnikov, 19 Adam Byrnes, 20 Victor Gresev, 21 Alexander Yanyushkin, 22 Andrey Kuzin