Russia set to enter Churchill Cup fray
June 7, 2011
Kingsley Jones will run his eye over his Russia squad © Getty Images
Former Sale coach Kingsley Jones is plotting Churchill Cup success for Russia, beginning with Wednesday's clash with Canada at Moseley Road.
Jones starting line-up includes Northampton Saints-bound winger Vasily Artemiev, who had a successful Churchill Cup campaign last season in bagging three tries.
The tournament will provide Jones with a chance to run his eye over the squad before the 2011 Rugby World Cup, while a number of fringe players have a final opportunity to force their way into the reckoning for a place on the plane to New Zealand.
"We want to ensure that we are in the best possible condition going into the World Cup and playing in the Churchill Cup is a big opportunity for us," Jones told The Guardian. "I have not brought our strongest squad over because I want to look at some players and draw others out of their comfort zone.
"The natural inclination of Russian players is to express and enjoy themselves but with only eight professional clubs in Russia and 130 players, many of whom are not eligible for the national side, they are liable to make mistakes in attack and defence. But what fires me is their enthusiasm. I come off the training field buzzing in a way I have not for years. These guys can play."
Russia will face a stern test from Canada, who defeated Mauro Bergamasco's Italy 26-12 on Saturday. That game's Man of the Match, Chauncey O'Toole, finds himself in the starting XV alongside fullback James Pritchard and No.8 Aaron Carpenter, both try-scorers last time out.
Tonga will make their Churchill Cup debut in the earlier kick off at Esher's home ground, where they face a USA side still smarting from their 87-8 defeat to the England Saxons on Saturday.
Tonga head coach Isitolo Maka has handed Perpignan tight-head Kisi Pulu the captaincy for the game while Newcastle Falcons second-row Josh Afu has to settle for a place on the bench.
The USA have rung the changes as Eddie O'Sullivan seeks the right response, with just Colin Hawley and Scott Lavalla keeping their places. Former Lions back-row Todd Clever will captain the side while ex-Bath lock John Van Der Giessen starts from the bench.
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