KUMAGAYA, Japan (Reuters) - Russia had physically recovered in time to play Samoa on Tuesday but the mere four-day break since their first World Cup game took a huge mental toll, coach Lyn Jones said after his side gave up a narrow halftime lead to lose 34-9.
The quick turnarounds teams face in the pool stages is a talking point at the competition and Russia were at the sharp end of it after they had to face the completely fresh Samoans so soon after Friday’s defeat to Japan in the tournament opener.
Not blessed with huge depth, Jones stuck with the same starting 15 and replacements and said that while his players had physically prepared themselves, the lack of time forced them to use the same gameplan they had deployed against the hosts.
“The four-day turnaround that everyone complains about is not such a physical thing for us, it’s a mental thing which has hurt us and the tactical appreciation from game to game wasn’t where we wanted it,” Jones told a news conference.
“We played a World Cup final on Friday for our players and trying to regather a motivation, a focus and a concentration for the game was the biggest challenge. It’s a massive thing to include in the equation when you’re playing above your station.”
“I’m sure there are plenty of sides out there with more resources that will have just as many difficulties in this tight turnaround.”
Leading 6-5 at halftime, Jones also regretted not adding to that lead before the break when Samoa were reduced to 13 men for almost 10 minutes. He also thought the two yellow cards handed out to Samoa should have been red and that would have transformed the game.
But “fundamental errors” in attack and defence, particularly prop Kirill Gotovtsev’s yellow card early in the second half that opened up the game for the grateful Samoans, ultimately cost Russia a game they could have won, their coach said.
“We didn’t play very well, did we?” was the Welshman’s overall assessment, although he did note some considerable progress for the world’s 20th ranked team whose competitiveness has surprised many in the opening week.
“Our setpiece is 20 times better than it’s been in the past, our game understanding is a lot better but these tier one teams just put a lot of pressure on you around the contact area and we’re just not wise enough at the moment to understand clearly what’s going on,” he said.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin, editing by Pritha Sarkar