Key Clash Preview: Ireland v Russia

Date: Sunday, September 25, 2011
Time: 6pm (local) 6am (Irish time)
Venue: Rotorua International Stadium
Referee:  Craig Joubert (RSA)

As Irish squad captain Brian O’Driscoll said after his side’s famous victory over Australia, there are still two matches left in the pool so Ireland will be looking to get on with the job of finishing first and getting on the more “favourable” side of the quarterfinal draw. Squad management will be key for Declan Kidney against a Russian outfit who have offered precious little in their maiden appearance at the tournament.

Ten changes for Ireland as Leo Cullen leads the team out with O’Driscoll & O’Connell being rested. Isaac Boss gets a much-deserved start and has the not-retiring-after-all Ronan O’Gara as his halfback partner. The entire backline is a cocktail of Leinster, Munster & Ulster players so it will be interesting to see how they gel. In the pack, Kidney has taken something of a gamble starting Healy, Heaslip and O’Brien, the last of whom it is felt needs more gametime wearing 7.


Russian captain Vladislav Korshunov came off after 60 minutes against Italy and his hooking duties are taken by Valery Tsnobiladze while his skippering ones go to scrum-half Alexander Yanyushkin, his country’s first-ever World Cup try-scorer. Konstantin Rachkov retains the number 10 jersey despite being only successful once from the tee against Italy – probably because his competition Yuri Kushnarev hasn’t fared much better.

What to expect:

No doubt the Russians’ only hope will be to mix things up in the forwards, but from their two matches so far it doesn’t seem they have the ability to do so effectively. Having such a makeshift XV themselves, Ireland may take a while to get into their stride but should still be able to establish enough of a lead to get on with the job of protecting key players. For example, though I fully expect Tony Buckley to play a full 80 minutes, I doubt they will be all on the same side of the front row with both Healy and Ross in the matchday squad.

All Eyes On: Fergus McFadden & Vasily Artemyev
Irish wingers were pretty much invisible against the Wallabies but McFadden will be hoping to get the chance to display the many talents he showed for Leinster last season. A strong runner with the ball especially after the tackle, not too shabby a tackler himself and he’ll even kick a goal from the tee if needed. I doubt there’s more than three clubs in Europe who could afford not to start him were he in their squad, and he’s currently at one of them.

Having studied the game at one of Ireland’s biggest rugby schools, Vasily returned to the Russian professional setup for a few years and was snapped up by Northampton Saints for this season. He could be one of the bargains of the year, as he showed in the Churchill Cup he has both pace and strength in the tackle. A virtual spectator on the wing in his first two matches, he’ll try to make more of an impact wearing 15 on Sunday.

Head to Head: Adam Byrnes v Leo Cullen

When Leo Cullen left Leinster in 2005 for a spell at Leicester, one of his replacements was the Australian-born lock Adam Byrnes, who went on to play Super Rugby for the Queensland Reds and now the Melbourne Rebels. He qualifies to play for Russia by virtue of his mother and they will be looking to his abrasive style to disrupt the Irish pack. However the Russian lineout lost 7 against the USA so proven poacher Cullen will hope to play a captain’s role in this area.

Last fixture: Ronan O’Gara started in these sides’ only ever meeting – a 35-3 win for Ireland in a RWC qualifier in 2002 in that famous rugby hotbed of Krasnoyarsk.

Weather: Forecast for Sunday evening in Rotorua is “Clear with cloudy periods with a slight chance of showers. Windy at times. Temperature: 6°C”

Prediction: Ireland should win this one handy, but given Kidney’s conservative nature I doubt an 87-0 blowout is on the cards. I reckon a decent lead at the 50-minute mark will satisfy him enough to break out the cotton wool for the bigger games ahead which could give the Russians some late chances so I’m going for Ireland by thirty points.

by JL Pagano

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