PREVIEW: Scotland v Russia
WORLD CUP POOL MATCH: Scotland are targeting a bonus-point victory, and nothing less, over Russia on Wednesday to set up a Pool A showdown with hosts Japan for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Coach Gregor Townsend made wholesale changes to the team that beat Samoa 34-0 last week, bringing in 14 players as he attempts to manage his 31-strong squad with only a four-day turnover before the game against Japan, in Yokohama on Sunday.
“We’ve got two big games coming up,” said Townsend. “We’ve had a long rest into this game.”
Russia, ranked 20th in the world, have suffered three defeats in their three pool games, going down to Japan (10-30), Samoa (9-34) and Ireland (0-35) to end any slim hopes they had of progressing to the last eight.
But Townsend warned that they were expecting a tough battle in Shizuoka, highlighting Russia’s strengths as their improved defence and fitness, solid scrum and territorial kicking game.
“It’s their last game, they’ll throw everything into this,” said the former Scotland and British and Irish Lions flyhalf.
“We’re expecting as good a performance as they gave against Ireland, or better.”
Scotland capitulated 3-27 in their campaign opener against Ireland but rebounded to beat Samoa 34-0 to set up these two games crucial to escaping from the pool.
And an injury-time fourth try that gifted Japan, shock 19-12 victors over Ireland, a bonus point against Samoa set up the do-or-die showdown against the Scots, should the latter not mess up against Russia.
“We have to win our next two games to qualify,” was Townsend’s blunt assessment. “If we don’t get a bonus-point win, it’s all the more difficult… If we don’t get a win, we’re out of the tournament.”
Scotland’s openside flank Fraser Brown said there were “no two bigger games with what’s on the line”.
“You’re playing for a place in the knock-out stage of the World Cup.”
Brown said the turnaround would be tough between games, but insisted the focus was solely on Russia.
‘They are human beings’
“You can’t hide away from the fact that it’s difficult to play two Test matches in four days,” said Brown.
“But you have to get on with it, get your head in it, get ready for Russia and as soon as that game against Russia is finished, we’ll have to get prepared properly in the time we have for Japan.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s Welsh coach Lyn Jones has made four changes from the team that battled well despite defeat by Ireland.
“We appreciate how difficult a victory would be, but Scottish people are not different from everybody else,” Jones said.
“They are human beings who are fallible when put under pressure. It’s for us just to bring a little bit extra to our game.”
Russia captain Vasily Artemyev, who has become a cult figure in Japan thanks to his bushy moustache, never-say-die attitude and thick Irish accent – the latter thanks to being schooled in Ireland, said Scotland were similar to the Irish, with dominant halfbacks who look to control the game.
“We will try to do better as we improve with every game at this tournament,” the fullback said.
“We’ll try to improve more and to create problems for Scotland’s defence and put their attacks under pressure.”
Players to watch:
For Scotland: Blair Kinghorn gets the No.15 jersey and he has plenty of pace. Flyhalf Adam Hastings has plenty to prove and so does scrumhalf George Horne. In the pack, John Barclay is abrasive, while Ben Toolis brings plenty of dynamism to the second row.
For Russia: Captain Vasily Artemyev will have a spotlight on him again with his never-say-die attitude. Centre Vladimir Ostroushko, who will also be making his eighth World Cup appearance, brings a lot of power into the midfield.
Head to head: Scotland should be tested up front, but that all depends on Russia’s attitude heading into this game.
Prediction: There is plenty on the line for Scotland. They will take this one by 20 points or more and they will get a bonus point.
Scotland: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Pete Horne, 11 Darcy Graham, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 George Horne, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Fraser Brown, 6 John Barclay (captain), 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Simon Berghan, 18 Willem Nel, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Magnus Bradbury, 21 Jamie Ritchie, 22 Henry Pyrgos, 23 Chris Harris.
Russia: 15 Vasily Artemyev (captain), 14 German Davydov, 13 Vladimir Ostroushko, 12 Dmitry Gerasimov, 11 Vladislav Sozonov, 10 Ramil Gaisin, 9 Dimitry Perov, 8 Nikita Vavilin, 7 Tagir Gadzhiev, 6 Vitaly Zhivatov, 5 Evgeny Elgin, 4 Andrey Ostrikov, 3 Kirill Gotovtsev, 2 Stanislav Selskii, 1 Valery Morozov.
Replacements: 16 Sergey Chernyshev, 17 Azamat Bitiev, 18 Vladimir Podrezov, 19 Bogdan Fedotko, 20 Andrey Garbuzov, 21 Sergey Ianiushkin, 22 Anton Sychev, 23 Yury Kushnarev.
Date: Wednesday, October 9
Venue: Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, Shizuoka Prefecture
Kick-off: 16.15 (07.15 GMT; 08.15 UK & Ireland time; 10.15 Russia-Moscow time)
Expected weather: It will be warm with a high of 29 and a low of 19. There will be clear skies and a strong breeze
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
AFP & @rugby365com