Preview: Russia v USA

Date published: September 14 2011

Regardless of the result, Thursday's clash with the USA in New Plymouth will be one of great significance for Russia.

Regardless of the result, Thursday's clash with the USA will be one of great significance for Russia, but don't expect them to be caught up in sentiment.

The Russians will be making their World Cup debut in New Plymouth and the Bears will look to come out with all guns blazing. Having progressed from 24th in the IRB rankings four years ago to 19th now, the Russians are a team on the rise and they will be looking to illustrate that first up against the Eagles.

Like Eastern European neighbours Romania and Georgia, the Russian game is centred upon a strong forward pack but where the Oaks and Lelos are perhaps over-reliant on their tight five, the Russians do posses a capable back-line.

Unfortunately, Nikolay Nerush's men did not enjoy the best of preparations for the World Cup, losing to English clubs Northampton and Gloucester on either side of defeats to Welsh outfits the Dragons and Ospreys during the month of August. However, with the three of the games occurring in the space of a week, those results are perhaps not the best measure of their standing.

Conversely, Eddie O'Sullivan's men have a World Cup match under their belts and, more importantly, a creditable performance too.

The Eagles defended manfully against Ireland and will look to add more attacking flair to their performance this time around.

It's the set pieces that must be a concern for the USA, and against a physical Russian outfit, the Eagles forwards will have to up their game both in the loose at in set play.

The strengths and weakness displayed by the Eagles certainly didn't go unnoticed by their opponents, with lock Adam Byrnes suggesting that the Bears should look to “focus on set pieces to deliver clean balls to the backs and create good opportunities in attack,” while scrum-half Alexander Yanyushkin admitted that the Russians had been impressed by the USA's “defensive spirit”.

While Saturday's game may have highlighted certain issues, the teams are no strangers to each other. Indeed, the last Test Russia played prior to the World Cup was a Churchill Cup encounter with the Eagles which the men from North America clinched 32-25.

Russia have fielded a similar side to the one that did duty in June. In the back-line Mikhail Babaev is replaced at outside centre by Konstantin Rachkov while Vladimir Ostroushko and Vasily Artemyev swap wings.

In the forwards, Artem Fatakhov comes in on the flank in place of Andrey Temnov with Andrey Garbuzov switching from the openside to the blindside to accommodate Fatakhov's arrival.

O'Sullivan has made three changes to the team that did battle with Ireland, with prop Shawn Pittman and hooker Phil Thiel replaced by Matekitonga Moeakiola and Chris Biller respectively. Pittman and Thiel both drop to the bench. In the only alteration to the back-line, Saracens full-back Chris Wyles is in for Blaine Scully who has to make do with a spot amongst the replacements.

Players to watch:

For Russia: Lock Denis Antonov is a relative newcomer to the international stage having made his debut during this year's Churchill Cup. The 196cm (6 ft 5 in) Moscow native has good ball skills to match his height and must be doing something right to form a second row partnership with Alexander Voytov that has kept Rebels lock Adam Byrnes on the bench.

For the USA: Kiwi-born James Arlidge was the star for Japan against France over the weekend and don't surprised to see another New Zealand-born player stealing the limelight this time around in the form of James Paterson. An exciting runner, Paterson has been given the extra responsibility to handling the place kicking and could just thrive against the Russians.

Head-to-head: Assistant coach Henry Paul and team director Kinglsey Jones have been so impressed with winger Vasily Artemyev that they've used their connections in England to get Artemyev a spot with the Northampton Saints. The 24-year-old will be up against speedster < b>Takudzwa Ngwenya on Thursday, and after having a quiet game against the Irish, Ngwenya will be looking to apply the afterburners with greater regularity this time around.

Previous results:
2011:USA won 32-25 in Worcester
2010: USA won 39-22 in Glendale
2004:USA won 41-11 in Tokyo
Russia won 31-16 in Moscow

Prediction: It's hard to avoid to avoid the “Cold War” clichés and we see this battle going the same way. Russia won't have the firepower to match the Americans. USA by twelve points

The teams:

Russia: 15 Igor Klyuchnikov, 14 Vladimir Ostroushko, 13 Konstantin Rachkov, 12 Alexey Makovetskiy, 11 Vasily Artemyev, 10 Yury Kushnarev, 9 Alexander Shakirov, 8 Vyacheslav Grachev, 7 Artem Fatakhov, 6 Andrey Garbuzov, 5 Denis Antonov, 4 Alexander Voytov, 3 Ivan Prishchepenko, 2 Vladislav Korshunov (c), 1 Sergey Popov.
Replacements: 16 Valery Tsnobiladze, 17 Alexander Khrokin, 18 Vladmimir Botvinnikov, 19 Adam Byrnes, 20 Victor Gresev, 21 Alexander Yanyushkin, 22 Andrey Kuzin.

USA: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 13 Paul Emerick, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 James Paterson, 10 Roland Suniula, 9 Mike Petri, 8 Nic Johnson, 7 Todd Clever (c), 6 Louis Stanfill, 5 Hayden Smith, 4 John van der Giessen, 3 Matekitonga Moeakiola, 2 Chris Biller, 1 Mike MacDonald.
Replacements: 16 Phil Thiel, 17 Shawn Pittman, 18 Scott LaValla, 19 Pat Danahy, 20 Tim Usasz, 21 Nese Malifa, 22 Blaine Scully.

Date: Thursday, September 15
Kick-off: 19:30 (07:30 GMT)
Venue: Stadium Taranaki, New Plymouth
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)