Italy v Russia, Rugby World Cup, September 20
Azzurri look to bounce back against Bears
September 18, 2011
Russia came out on the wrong side of a 15-6 scoreline on their World Cup debut against USA © Getty Images
Italy will be out to kickstart their Rugby World Campaign when they tackle tournament newcomers Russia at Trafalgar Park in Nelson on Tuesday.
The Azzurri opened with a 32-6 defeat by Australia, turning in an impressive performance during the first half as the reached the interval level at six points apiece before being swept aside by the Wallabies after the interval.
Their hopes of qualifying for the last eight suffered a further setback when Ireland went and upset the Aussies in Auckland on Saturday but their task now is to rack up bonus-point wins against both Russia and the USA in the hope that they will still have a chance of reaching the knockout stages with a victory over Declan Kidney's side in their final pool game.
However, Russia, as they proved on their World Cup debut against the Americans are not in New Zealand to simply make up numbers, the Bears giving an excellent account of themselves in a 13-6 defeat, a wonder try from Mike Petri the only difference between the two sides. When you consider that the US held their own against the Irish for long periods, it seems likely that the Russians will prove more than capable of asking a question or two of the Italians.
Russia - Player to Watch: Centre Andrey Kuzin is Russia's all-time top try-scorer but he was an unused substitute in the defeat by the Americans. However, he has been recalled for Tuesday's game so he will be desperate to prove a point.
Russia - Team News: Russia boss Nikolay Nerush has made four changes in personnel to the side beaten by the Eagles. Konstantin Rachkov, who started at outside centre against the USA, takes over at fly-half from Yury Kushnarev, who drops to the bench, with the aforementioned Kuzin coming into the midfield. The inclusion of Victor Gresev at No.8 prompts a back-row reshuffle which sees Vyacheslav Grachev switch to the blindside and Andrey Garbuzov move to the openside. Artem Fatakhov is the man to drop out. Elsewhere, Australian-born lock Adam Byrnes is preferred to Denis Antonov in the second-row, while Sergey Popov replaces Vladimir Botvinnikov at loose-head prop.
Italy - Player to Watch: Aironi fly-half remains a major problem for the Azzurri so Robert Bocchino will be out to impress in what is only his second start for the Azzurri having been preferred to Luciano Orquera at No.10.
Italy - Team News: Italy coach Nick Mallett has made 12 changes in total. Backs Andrea Masi and Tommaso Benvenuti, along with No.8 and skipper Sergio Parisse, are the only players retained from the side that lost 32-6 to Australia in the opening round of matches as Mallett chooses to rotate his squad. Masi keeps his place at fullback while Tommaso Benvenuti moves from wing to outside centre to accommodate Giulio Toniolatti. Edoardo Gori comes in alongside Bocchino at half-back in place of Fabio Semenzato, while Parisse is joined in the back-row by Paul Derbyshire and Mauro Bergamasco. Salvatore Perugini returns as starting loose-head prop for his first match since Italy's final 2011 Six Nations match in March. Quintin Geldenhuys and Marco Bortolami join forces in the second-row in the absence of Cornelius van Zyl and Carlo Antonio Del Fava.
Key Battle: Italy are capable of disrupting any side in the world in the set-piece so they will be particularly confident of dismantling Russia in the scrum. Admittedly, they will not have their first-choice front-row combination of Andrea Lo Cicero, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Martin Castrogiovanni on the field in Nelson but Perugini, Fabio Ongaro, Lorenzo Cittadini represent a formidable trio in their own right. Vladimir Botvinnikov, Vladislav Korshunov (capt) and Ivan Prishchepenko could be in for a difficult evening.
Trivia: Vyacheslav Grachov, who turned 38 in April, is the oldest player at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Stats: Italy have participated in all six Rugby World Cups but have never progressed beyond the pool stages.
"I don't think that Italy will become weaker because of that. Everyone in their roster of 30 is a skilled player, so the game against them will be difficult and intense." - Fullback Igor Klyuchnikov is not expecting the changes made by Italy to make Russia's task any easier
"You can do all the training you like but it's only in the first game that you really find out so we know we have a lot of work to do. We killed ourselves in terms of attacking momentum with so many fouls and penalties." - Georgia boss Richie Dixon was disappointed with his side's discipline against Scotland
Prediction: Italy have made a raft of changes but they should still have far too much muscle for a game but limited Russia side.
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