Russia coach Nikolai Nerush has unveiled his 30-man squad for their World Cup debut in New Zealand next month, and singled out their opening clash with the USA as pivotal to their campaign.
The team, known as the Bears, will be led by experienced hooker Vladislav Korshunov and is a mixture of youth and experience. The side that will arrive in New Zealand will include wing Andrey Kuzin, who needs one cap to equal USSR legend Igor Mironov's all-time most-capped record.
It also features the country's two most-capped forwards – Alexey Khrokin and Viatcheslav Grachev, and another four players on more than 50 caps. A further three could reach that milestone in pool play.
Youth has also been given its chance with Denis Antonov and Mikhail Sidorov two of an extremely promising batch of young Moscow players to be given their chances to shine on the sport's biggest stage. The Slava pair are two of three forwards to have won less than five caps, the third being Novokuznetsk hooker Valeriy Tsnobiladze.
There are two uncapped players in the squad. The first is Melbourne Rebels lock Adam Byrnes. Australian-born Byrnes qualifies for Russia thanks to ancestry with both of his maternal grandparents being born in the USSR. His mother spoke Russian to him as a child, and he is baptized Russian Orthodox.
The second is Denis Simplikevich, a late bolter to the squad. The young fullback first came to notice with a series of standout performances in the IRB's Junior World Rugby Trophy in 2010, and backed that up with a series of try-scoring appearances in the 2011 edition.
The oldest player is Grachev - named as vice-captain, and at 38 he is the oldest player to feature in a World Cup 2011 squad. He is the only player in the squad to have played in the Soviet League – for Star, a team from Tashkent in present-day Uzbekistan.
One player to miss out on selection is Russia's only French Top 14 player Kirill Kulemin, who has failed to recover in time from an injury suffered early in the year. However, there are still five foreign-based players in the squad: Byrnes (Australia), Northampton Saints wing Vasily Artemyev, Sale Sharks lock Andrey Ostrikov (both England), Grachev (France), and Konstantin Rachkov, the current Russia-only record points scorer, who plays for Jonah Lomu's Stade Phocéen in Marseille (France).
The majority of the squad is taken from Russia's professional domestic league and five Super League clubs are represented in the squad, testament to the increasing depth of quality across the country.
They begin their campaign against the United States on September 15 at New Plymouth in what has been dubbed as 'the Cold War match', and then face Italy on September 20 in Nelson before playing Ireland on September 25 at Rotorua. Their match against Australia takes place on October 1 at Nelson.
The squad, who are currently on tour in England, are scheduled to leave for New Zealand on September 5.
Nerush said his squad were preparing hard for their opening match against the USA, adding that success could boost morale.
"We are set to give our best in every match at the World Cup but the win in the starting clash may become a key to success in the other matches," he explained.
Forwards: Denis Antonov, Vladimir Botvinnikov, Adam Byrnes, Artem Fatakhov, Andrey Garbuzov, Viatcheslav Grachev, Victor Gresev, Alexander Khrokin, Vladislav Korshunov, Evgenii Matveev, Andrey Ostrikov, Sergey Popov, Ivan Prishchepenko, Mikhail Sidorov, Alexey Travkin, Valeriy Tsnobiladze, Alexander Voytov.
Backs: Vasily Artemyev, Mikhail Babaev, Andrey Bykanov, Igor Galinovskiy, Igor Klyuchnikov, Yury Kushnarev, Andrey Kuzin, Alexey Makovetskiy, Vladimir Ostroushko, Konstantin Rachkov, Alexander Shakirov, Denis Simplikevich, Alexander Yanyushkin.
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