TOKYO (Reuters) - Russia drew first blood in the Rugby World Cup on Friday but ultimately failed to bridge the gap in class with host nation Japan in the opening match of the tournament.
There was certainly no lack of effort from the lowly-ranked Russians as they were offered a rare moment in the limelight, but coach Lyn Jones said the level of rugby they were expected to maintain was simply beyond their experience.
“We had a 20 percent chance to win ... it is a new sport for us and I am very very proud of how our players got stuck in and gave their all for the nation,” the Welshman told reporters after the 30-10 defeat.
“It is a sombre changing room, they thought they had a chance to win but it was not to be. They gave it their best shot tonight.”
Russia only qualified for their second World Cup by default after European rivals Romanian and Spain were excluded for fielding ineligible players in the qualifiers.
They belied their lowly standing on Friday and threatened to ruin Japan’s opening night party, exploiting an early mistake by Will Tupou to send winger Kirill Golosnitskiy over for the tournament’s first try in the fourth minute.
They kept the lead until just before the break when Japan winger Kotaro Matsushima crossed for the second of his three tries and even when the hosts eased further in front, it never turned into a rout.
“We were constantly suffering from a lack of gainline. When we did cross, we were excited,” Jones added. “We had some magic but it wasn’t enough.
“It is playing at an intensity and focus our players aren’t used to.
“They kept ball in play as much as they could. Our boys are just not used to that. There were 11 penalties in the game.
“Tier one just isn’t what we are used to, it is a different sport. We have prepared for a year for it to be as close as possible.”
One of the biggest complaints from lower tier teams at World Cups has been the lack of time between matches and although World Rugby has addressed the issue, Russia have only four days before they take on physical Pool A rivals Samoa.
“For Samoa, we need recovery and confidence,” said Jones.
“As long as we’re on the right track, let’s keep working at it, with more focus, concentration and intensity. We appreciate the Samoan players are really good, so it will be a different kind of challenge.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney and Shinichi Saochiro, editing by Toby Davis and Jon Boyle