On 15th September Russia will take on USA at New Plymouth in the first "final" of this year's RWC. We all know that neither Russia nor USA will progress past the group stages. So why are they here? Firstly, long term development. Secondly, to win this game.
This is a must win game for both sides. Both are from proud countries that don't like losing. Make that hate losing. And that is a real motivator
Of course, there is more to it than just pride. Both sides have been making progress on the IRB sevens circuit and both have invested in big name coaches: the USA Eagles have Eddie O'Sullivan and the Russian Bears have Kingsley Jones and Henry Paul. Both unions will want a return on their respective investments “ a win will get them that return and will demonstrate to sponsors that they are worth the money.
However, on the pitch, the players will not be thinking about how much their unions have had to spend on travel, coaches, kit, etc and whether or not a win will represent a sufficient return on investment. For the players it is all about pride: the bragging rights, the thrill of winning and of course, avoiding the sickening feeling of losing the biggest game of their lives.
Both sides use the sevens circuit to develop players so they will be expansive in their play and will experiment. We know they will both be up for it. Both have rapid backs and both have mobile packs with back rows who will get around the park. There will be tries and there will be mistakes “ inevitable in teams that try things. These teams are very evenly matched.
So who will win? Good question. For the first time in the world cup so far, I genuinely have no idea. At the last meeting between these two “ the Churchill Cup earlier this summer “ the Eagles won. But only by 7. This is a very different game “ the added pressure of the big stage and the fact that this is the one real opportunity for either side to win a game.
Of course, the front 5 will be important in providing a platform. Tactically, the loose forwards are key: the Eagles will look to use players like Todd Clever to swoop on the opposition backs and disrupt them, the Bears will use Victor Gresev to provide an extra dimension to their attack. However, this game will be won by the team that handles the pressure and makes the least mistakes.
Whatever the eventual result, this really will be a great game to watch. So pick your super-power of choice (or decide if you are an Eagle or a Bear) and watch the game. You will not be disappointed.