Russia may have taken the back door into the Rugby World Cup, but in their friendly against Japan on Saturday they get a chance to show their opponents in next year’s tournament opener that they belong.
Speaking to Kyodo News on Thursday, Russia’s Welsh coach Lyn Jones said his team understands they take the underdog status into both the match against Japan at Gloucester’s Kingsholm Stadium and in next year’s first Pool A meeting at Ajinomoto Stadium.
«I don’t think many expect much in terms of results from us, but it was the same situation in 2011 (at the World Cup) and we managed to surprise a few teams with our attacking strength,» the 54-year-old who won five caps for Wales said.
(Lyn Jones is pictured on 6 Sept, 2014 when he was in charge of Newport Gwent Dragons)[Sportsfile/Corbis/Getty/Kyodo]
After initially failing to qualify for the 2019 tournament, Russia were handed a ticket to the big dance when Romania — who had initially won a place — and Spain and Belgium were docked qualification points, taking them out of the picture for the World Cup to be played in 11 cities across Japan.
For Jones, who was only appointed coach in August, the opportunity presents a chance for rugby in Russia to grow, building on momentum that has waned after the nation made its sole appearance in the quadrennial tournament in 2011.
«I’m sure we can be a more complete team at the upcoming World Cup,» he said. «We are not going to be just strong in attack, I want us to be stronger in all aspects of the game, able to compete at a high-intensity level against teams like Samoa, Japan, Ireland and Scotland.»
«It’s going to be a huge experience for all of us, and I think we — the players and the team — can all grow.»
Russian captain Vasily Artemyev echoed his coach’s thoughts, the winger saying that his team has a lot to learn to get to the same level as Japan.
But before looking ahead to Tokyo, Artemyev wants to ensure he and his teammates give Japan something to think about over the next 10 months.
«Our biggest strength is our willingness to play and to compete, the 31-year-old from Zelenograd, near Moscow, said.
«We are really hungry now, that’s going to be our biggest strength. We will try to match Japan in terms of movement on the pitch because Japan moves really well.»
Pointing to their pacey back-line, Artemyev believes Russia can trouble Japan with the ball in hand, but he is not getting too far ahead of himself.
«We will have to stick to the game plan that we make and hopefully that’s going to be our strength, if it works.»
For the recently-installed Jones, his main concern is ensuring his team manages expectations, both now and next year, because the pressure is always going to be on Japan when playing Russia.
«I think we have a 20 percent chance of winning against Japan on Saturday,» he said. «I’m very realistic, I don’t think it’s impossible, but I think it’s going to be difficult for us.»
In Tokyo next year, the pressure is going to be all on Japan, Jones insists, and how the home team responds will say a lot about them.
«Pressure can bring the best out of people, or it can bring the worst out of people. That’s for them to decide.»
«For us, we’ve got nothing to lose. We are just coming to play…to enjoy the tournament and represent ourselves in the best possible way.»
«It’s going to be a really great honor for Russian rugby to be involved.»
All — Kyodo News+