Bears touch down in Tauranga

By Kelly Exelby

A battered and bruised Russia limped into Tauranga yesterday, cancelling their one planned training session at Tauranga Domain with coach Nikolay Nerush hopeful he'll have something close to 30 fit players to chose from in the next 48 hours for Sunday's clash with the rampant Irish in Rotorua.

Targeting being among the top 15 nationals in the world by the time the next Rugby World Cup rolls around in 2015, Nerush said Tuesday's 53-17 loss to Italy in Nelson was a bitter pill, made even worse by a possible tournament-ending sternum injury to fullback Igor Klyuchnikov.

Klyuchnikov was yesterday being monitored and the injury would be reassessed ahead of the side's training at Baypark Stadium, although it was unlikely he would play against the Irish.

Russia gave up nine tries in the loss to Italy, missing numerous tackles and giving away nine penalties. Their tactic was to focus on possession and set piece but they committed too many errors to be remotely competitive.

"We played too nervous, committed many fouls and made a lot of mistakes," Nerush said.

"I have two different feelings about the game: The first half was too many errors and infringements but by the end of the first half we improved and played according to the initial plan.

"I was satisfied with 40 minutes."

Nerush put the team's performance down to stage fright, saying psychologically they were under-prepared in their first World Cup, despite a narrow loss to the United States in the opening game.

Replacement halfback Alexander Yanyushkin accompanied his coach to last night's press conference at the Sebel Trinity Wharf, attended by a solitary journalist, with the handful of Russian print media and state television reporters still en route to Tauranga from the South Island.

Nerush didn't say whether Yanyushkin would be the starting halfback against Ireland but the 1.65m-tall player made a big impression in his World Cup debut, scoring Russia's first-ever try at a World Cup having been been sidelined with an Achilles' tendon injury since in April.

One player keen for more is lock Adam Byrnes. As a kid growing up in Sydney, Byrnes admits now he was somewhat naive to let his Russian language slip as he became immersed in the Australian way of life.

Soon, he had the same Aussie twang as his mates in the schoolyard, and slowly the Russian he had learned as a toddler from his Soviet-born mother, Olga, eroded so much that he lost complete touch with the language.

Byrnes wishes he retained more of his mother's native tongue. It would help him more easily communicate with his Russia teammates.

Nine months ago, Byrnes, who plays for the Super 15's Melbourne Rebels, said he didn't even know Russia had a rugby team.

"I read an article in January or February of this year, that Russia had qualified for their first World Cup," the Sydney-born Byrnes said. "I didn't know anyone in Russia played rugby.

"It said that any player who is playing professionally and who has a parent or grandparent born in Russia, please come forward. So I definitely jumped at that prospect."

Byrnes, who was named in the reserves for Russia's opening loss to the United States in New Zealand, emailed Russia's forwards coach, former Wales flanker Kingsley Jones, and told him he'd "be pleased to play for the Bears".

A few weeks later, Jones and Russia indicated they were interested, and the rest is, well, a lesson into why kids shouldn't lose any language skills they develop as a child.

"Before I went to school, my mother spoke to me in Russian, so I knew the basics," Byrnes said. "But being a naive child, I went to school and started speaking English. I thought, 'why am I going to learn Russian in a country where everyone speaks English?"'

At 30, Byrnes thought it was beyond him to represent any country at rugby's showpiece event. He dreamed it might be the country of his birth.

"It has always been my goal to be a Wallaby, but getting a chance to represent Russia at the Rugby World Cup is a pleasant surprise." with AP

- Bay of Plenty Times

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