Russia score 0 at Rugby World Cup but find reasons to smile

KOBE, Japan (AP) — They didn’t score a point and they were the first team officially eliminated from title contention at the Rugby World Cup, yet the Russians still had smiles on their faces.

After watching his Russia team lose to Ireland 35-0 on Thursday in Kobe’s Misaki Stadium, coach Lyn Jones was jubilant.

“It’s a big day for Russian rugby and we came through with five stars,” Jones said.

The Bears were tipped for a thrashing. Ireland was only Russia’s second Tier One opponent in eight years since the 2011 Rugby World Cup, where it lost to the Irish 62-12. Just two months ago, Russia lost to Italy 85-15.

Ireland was on the rebound on Thursday after being stunned by Japan, while Russia conceded 30 to Japan and 34 to Samoa in defeats.

And yet, in their third pool match, the Russians gave their best performance yet, despite playing 20 minutes with 14 men. They made Ireland, which came to the tournament ranked No. 1, grind for all 35 points. Ireland committed 28 turnovers.

“We came here with an understanding, we’re not stupid people,” said Jones, Russia’s coach for 14 months. “We knew we had .001% of a chance of winning.

“Tonight was just enormous for our players. The whole occasion, and the fact we were playing against Ireland, brought the best out of them.”

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt paid them tribute.

“The Russians certainly had a bit to offer. They gave up nothing,” he said. “We felt we made some good line breaks but they fought really hard to make it difficult for us to get anything off the back of them.”

Ireland made an ominous 14-0 start in 14 minutes, then was limited to one try in the next 50 minutes, and while a Russian was in the sin-bin. Ireland didn’t score the fourth bonus-point try they desperately sought until the game was more than an hour old, and finished with a late try when Russia tired.

The Russians made a tournament-high 182 tackles with a 90% success rate.

“We are making good steps forward,” said captain Vasily Artemyev, who played rugby in Dublin as a teenager. “It’s already an achievement for us that we managed to trouble Ireland _ they could not score for about 20 minutes in the second half.”

Actually, 22 minutes.

Tagir Gadzhiev led the Bears with a match-best 20 tackles, and the flanker admitted it was hard to breathe trying to catch green jerseys.

“Irish players are the same people as we are, but they are a team of massive experience,” he said. “However, in some aspects, we were not worse than them individually.”

Lock Bogdan Fedotko made a second-best 15 tackles, but his yellow card for a second professional foul paved the way for Ireland’s third try. He had no regrets.

“I’ve got some satisfaction, as some sceptics thought we would lose by 70 or 80 points,” Fedotko said. “We fought worthily. It’s a pity we did not manage to score any points.”

Fedotko said he became tired from the 30th minute. Winger Denis Simplikevich said he began to flag from around the 65th. Artemyev admitted they had fatigue issues, which they also suffered from against Japan and Samoa.

“We are losing the games but we are not broken,” Artemyev said. “We get positive feedback from home, and we’ve got good exposure from the (Russian) federal sports channel.”

Yet to win a Rugby World Cup match, Russia completes its pool play against Scotland on Wednesday in Shizuoka.