World Cup Preview: USA & Russia

Group C Opposition: Australia, Ireland, Italy

Pedigree: Having been at every tournament except 1995, the Eagles are respected members of rugby’s second tier. They have two wins in RWC history, both against Japan. Regular tests against professional B-teams due to the Churchill Cup means they are well-steeled. Russia are here for the first time, although they declined an invitation (as the Soviet Union) to compete in 1987. Bizarrely, they have a win against the Barbarians on their CV, 29-23 in their first international as Russia in 1992. The USA are also reigning Olympic champions (albeit from 1924).

Players to watch: Those who watch their rugby only on YouTube will point to Takwudza Ngwenya as one of the best wingers in world rugby, while others call him an overrated sprinter who once outpaced another overrated sprinter. Highly-regarded Highlanders wing James Paterson is a much better player, and he actually has a reason to wear a USA shirt, having gone to school in Colorado, and captained the USA at underage. Trinity College Dublin lock and captain Scott LaValla has just signed for Stade Francais – a step down in our opinion.

There is also a Southside connection in the Russia squad – with former Blackrock College flyer, and newly-minted Northampton Saint, Vasily Armetiev Roysh on the wing. Leinster briefly scooped up Artemiev alongside his school-mates Luke Fitzgerald and Niall Morris for the Academy, but he didn’t make the grade (although he did play U-19 for Ireland). Artemiev will be joined in the Premiership by lock Andrei Ostrikov, who will be helpng Mushy blow the Sale Sharks kebab budget. One who did get to put on a Leinster shirt was the Russian-sounding Adam Byrnes, a Melbourne Rebel who qualified under the Granny Rule – though presumably not Granny Byrnes.

Good Tournament: Very easy – the aim is to win against one another. And hopefully not get too embarrassed by the big guns.

Bad Tournament: Not winning against one another.

Prospects: The contrast between these sides as rugby nations is very interesting. American rugby hotbeds tend to be swish colleges in well-to-do suburbs – Rhode Island, Connecticut or California. Russia, on the other hand, has its egg-chasing centre of influence in Krasnoyarsk – a grimy Siberian hell-hole better known for industrial pollution and decrepit nuclear weapon storage. It’s hard to imagine a greater contrast in world rugby then the pampered trust fund frat boys of the US team and the hard-bitten Russkies, except of course that between the tough, honest warriors of Limerick and the flakey posh dandies of D4.

Russia very much buck the trend of Eastern European rugby – that is, they eschew the 8 man game played by Georgia and Romania in favour of something more expansive. It’s a laudable ambition but seems rather counter-intuitive in a country where weightlifting is so popular. They were far from disgraced in a 54-19 defeat to Northampton, which included 19 points given up when a man down in the first half (they were just 26-12 down at half-time), and also play the Dragons and the Ospreys, both this week.

In recent years, they have been fully integrated into the global IRB schedule, and will be familiar with other second tier nations. They have a scalp of Romania in Bucharest on their CV, but have fallen short repeatedly against Georgia, Canada and the US, and endured a 72 point beating by Japan last year.  This may be one RWC too soon for them, but there is a feeling they could be a force in the future.  Remarkably, there is a professional league in Russia, and the sport’s recently acquired Olympic status has given it access to state funding and top class facilities (Russian schools can only play Olympic sports).  There is a huge will to grow the sport in the country.

The USA play to a pretty consistent template – domestic (typically college) players with a smattering of Europe-based pros who are familiar with what is required to not disgrace themselves against Test opposition. They are perfect for Eddie’s hands-on coaching style – the American sporting psyche very much likes an overarching dictator imposing his will on the team – and will be better off for his big tournament experience (stop sniggering at the back!).

The US have been putting themselves up against Six Nations B sides (or Wolfhounds or whatever) in the Churchill Cup for a while, but haven’t quite got the giant-killing factor nailed down – they haven’t any notable wins from 9 years of the series, which has now been discontinued. What they do have is money, high-tech facilities and a man who was being touted as the next Lions coach this time 4 years ago. The 9/11 game against Ireland will be emotional for the players and also for the coach, who will have to watch as the men he overlooked in 2007 put their hands up for the Wallabies game.

Verdict: If this was 1972 and it was a basketball (or chess) game, the world would be watching. Regretably it’s 2011 and rugby, and the audience is likely to comprise two men, a dog, Egg Chaser and Mini Egg. Russia look exciting and are attracting a lot of positive media coverage, but the USA are more solid, and should win. Regarding the rest of the group, the Eagles caused England, Samoa and Tonga a few awkward moments in 2003, so Ireland or Italy might struggle to put them away, but should in the end. Russia’s open gameplan could end in humiliation against the Wallaby reserves and possibly Ireland, although we tend to get dragged down to the level of inferior teams.

Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: