United States v Russia, Rugby World Cup, September 15
Russia come out of cold
September 13, 2011
Former Sales Sharks coach Jones wants to take the game to the next level in Russia © Getty Images
Russia make their World Cup debut against the United States on Thursday knowing they must capitalise on their moment in the spotlight.
Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov will attend the Pool C showdown in New Plymouth to lend government backing to a sport that is growing in popularity in Russia. Team director Kingsley Jones insists the team are aware of what is at stake when they renew their rivalry with the USA.
"Our debut in this competition is huge. The eyes of the world are on us. The match will be on the main TV channel," said Jones. "This can take the game in Russia to the next level. There's huge interest.
"Hopefully it'll spark younger generations to get involved in rugby because the potential in Russia is huge. The fact the Deputy Prime Minister will be there says that rugby is being taken serious. He will add extra interest and Russia will be looking at this saying 'this is serious'."
The USA have won all three previous meetings against Russia, but in the most recent of those in June they prevailed only 32-25. Coach Eddie O'Sullivan has made it clear he views the fixture as the Eagles' World Cup final, but preparations have been hampered by the curse of the minnows - a quick turnaround between matches.
Just four days will separate the spirited 22-10 defeat by Ireland on the 10th anniversary of September 11 from the showdown at Stadium Taranaki, yet O'Sullivan has made just three changes.
"It's not an ideal situation to turn around in four days but we knew this would be the landscape," he said. "Russia will be fresh and there's a debate over whether having had a game will work in our favour or against us.
"It was important for us for many reasons to put in a big performance against Ireland. People asked me if we should have put out a weaker team and focused on Russia, but if we'd done that we'd have sold ourselves short given it's the World Cup and the date of the game. I was very happy that we went toe to toe."
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