By Jon Newcombe
Head Coach Kingsley Jones has made wholesale changes to his starting line-up as Russia bid for a first-ever Nations Cup win over Italian opposition at the IRB Nations Cup in Bucharest on Wednesday evening.
Russia have played Italy under the guise of Italy ‘A’ or Emerging Italy in four previous tournaments including last year’s event which ended in a 33-17 defeat for the Bears.
Mindful of a schedule that sees all the participants play three matches in eight days – the final round of this year’s Nations Cup takes place on Sunday – Jones has freshened things up, selection-wise, with a total of eight changes made to the side that lost to Romania on Saturday in round one.
Jones has also made three positional changes with captain Andrey Temnov moving across the back row from blindside to openside flanker. Yury Kushnarev, scorer of 15 points in the 30-20 defeat to Romania, swaps positions with Sergei Sugrobov and steps up from full back to play fly half.
Emerging Italy have also made eight changes, but Edoardo Ruffolo, their two-try hero in the 26-6 win over Argentina Jaguars in round one, retains the number six jersey.
Former Wasps and Sale coach Tony Hanks, now acting as a consultant skills coach with Russia, is fully aware of how difficult Wednesday’s tie is likely to be.
He said: “We watched Emerging Italy played Argentina and we were quite impressed by them: they were very organised; they have got a couple of really decent players; and from what everyone is telling me this is one of the best Emerging Italy or Italy A teams that’s played for a long time. Apparently that’s what the Italians are saying as well, so obviously their strength in depth is growing.
“We’ve made a few changes to our pack to give some other guys an opportunity. The big thing for us is to see if we improve from the Romania game."
Hanks continued: “We were disappointed with some areas of our game at the weekend. We didn’t tackle as well as we would have liked and we didn’t control possession for as long as we would have liked. We also need to improve on our game understanding and get into defensive positions quicker.
“If we improve in those areas we’ll give ourselves a chance against Emerging Italy.”
Preceding the Russia v Emerging Italy clash is the match between hosts Romania and Argentina Jaguars.
Number 8 Vlad Nistor makes his first start in international rugby for Romania after coming off the bench to good effect early in the second half of the round one win over Russia. Nistor has spent the past year as a member of the academy at French Top 14 champions Castres Olympique.
Argentina Jaguars coach Daniel Hourcade has decided to change all but two of his starting pack, with captain Rodrigo Bruno moving to the back of the scrum from the second row and Javier Ortego Desio retaining his place on the blindside.
Centre Juan Pablo Estelles is the only back to remain from the opening day defeat to Emerging Italy although he is down to play 13, not 12 as he did at the weekend.