HAMAMATSU, Japan (Reuters) - Scotland are playing for their World Cup future over the next six days and coach Gregor Townsend has been at pains to remind his players they need to ensure they do not take their eyes off their match against Russia on Wednesday.
Townsend’s side sit third in Pool A on five points, behind Japan (14) and Ireland (11) and need bonus point victories against both Russia and the tournament hosts on Sunday in Yokohama to advance to the knockout stages.
The clash with the Bears kicks off at Shizuoka Stadium at 4.15 p.m. (0715 GMT) on Wednesday and the short turnaround to the clash with Japan necessitated Townsend making 14 changes from the side that beat Samoa 34-0 on Sept. 30.
The former Scotland flyhalf said that he expected the side to concentrate on winning the Russia match, then the entire squad would focus on Japan.
“It’s all about Russia and we need to get a bonus point,” Townsend told reporters in Hamamatsu on Monday. “If we don’t get a bonus point then our challenge against Japan becomes even more difficult.
“If we don’t win against Russia we are out of the tournament. It’s important we build on the momentum we built against Samoa.”
Loose forward John Barclay will captain the team against Russia, with Darcy Graham the only survivor from the starting side that beat Samoa.
As if to reinforce his point about ensuring they beat Russia on Wednesday, Townsend said he had been impressed with the eastern Europeans as they grew into the tournament.
“Russia have got better,” he said.
“Their defence is good. They have a very good scrum, great kicking game. They have some very physical players who are good rugby players.
“And it’s their last game. They will be throwing everything into this.”
It will not only be Russia’s last game at the current tournament but possibly the last World Cup match for their inspirational captain Vasily Artemyev.
“I need to be realistic. This year, our journey at the World Cup is coming to an end on Wednesday,” the 32-year-old fullback said. “It’s very probable that the next World Cup will be held without me as a player.”
Artemyev echoed what Townsend thought and that the team had been improving each game and he was keen for them to try and upset Scotland’s hopes for the quarter-finals.
“We will try to do better as we improve with every game at this tournament,” he said.
“We’ll try to improve more and to create problems for Scotland’s defence and put their attack under pressure.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Christian Radnedge