Irish face Russia looking for 3rd straight win
Updated: September 23, 2011, 20:01
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Ireland reeled in the biggest fish in its World Cup pool when it took out Australia and now it has tasked a second-string team to face Russia on Sunday with one message: Don't blow it.
That stunning win over the Wallabies has pinned Irish hopes on finally doing justice to their talent and advancing past the quarterfinals for the first time.
But first they have to overcome Russia in Rotorua's International Stadium, then Six Nations foe Italy in Dunedin next week.
Rory Best, who hooked against Australia and was in the reserves this weekend, said they talked about the Russians in the dressing room party at Eden Park.
"We talked Saturday night after the final whistle that this is a very short, intensive competition compared to what we're used to playing in,'' Best said.
"It means nothing if we don't push on and improve. Each game has its own time slot so the world is watching each game. It's important we don't let ourselves down this Sunday.''
If Ireland had a third-string side it should still account for Russia, but Ireland's trouble is consistency.
The win at Eden Park last weekend was the first time the Irish have won successive matches since early February, when a fortunate Six Nations-opening win over Italy followed a defeat of Argentina the previous November. The last time they enjoyed successive wins before then was in the 2010 Six Nations.
The Irish haven't won three in a row in 19 months.
Best again: "I think sometimes the frustrating thing from an Irish point of view is that we've shown in the past that we have these performances in us. The big thing for us now is to show a bit more consistency.
"It can't just be a one-off, that has to be the norm. We have to keep trying to, at a minimum, achieve the standard we were at Saturday night and hopefully try to achieve better each time we take the pitch to play.''
The Irish have rested Paul O'Connell, Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy and Tommy Bowe to let them recover from niggles, and handed the captaincy to lock Leo Cullen, who will make his World Cup debut at 33. Three others will also play their first World Cup match: hooker Sean Cronin, flanker Donnacha Ryan and winger Fergus McFadden.
They are among 10 changes to the team. Cullen and 34-year-old Ronan O'Gara, who shot down rumors this week he was retiring shortly, were the only survivors from Ireland's only previous match with Russia, a 35-3 win in Krasnoyarsk in a qualifier for the 2003 World Cup.
O'Gara watched on TV the Russians' 53-17 loss to Italy in Nelson on Tuesday.
"You saw glimmers of hope with how good Russia can be, but they had a few defensive lapses,'' he said. "They'll probably be hurting.''
The Russians did hurt, starting poorly then panicking and not refocusing until the arrival of substitute scrumhalf Alexander Yanyushkin. Then they were most disappointed to fall just short of a bonus-point fourth try against the Italians.
The Bears have made almost as many changes as the Irish, nine, in order to try to finish their first World Cup with a good performance against the Wallabies.
To that end, its youngest squad player, 20-year-old Siberian Denis Simplikevich, will make his international debut on the right wing. Inside center Sergey Trishin, a late addition to the squad after Igor Galinovsky broke his leg, will also make his World Cup debut, and hooker Valery Tsnobiladze and tighthead prop Alexander Khrokin have earned their first starts in the tournament.
Yanyushkin was behind the pack and handed the captaincy while hooker Vladislav Korshunov was rested.
"We are improving from match to match and against Ireland we hope to show better play in attack,'' said flyhalf Konstantin Rachkov, who will make his third straight start.
Gert Smal, the former Springbok who is Ireland's forwards coach, says they respect the Russians.
"In the World Cup you can't underestimate anybody. You'll be in for a big surprise if you think you can just walk up for the game and finish it off,'' Smal said. "We've prepared for this game just as aggressively as we would for any other top team.''
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Keith Earls, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble, Ronan O'Gara, Isaac Boss; Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, Donnacha Ryan, Leo Cullen (captain), Donncha O'Callaghan, Tony Buckley, Sean Cronin, Cian Healy. Reserves: Rory Best, Mike Ross, Denis Leamy, Shane Jennings, Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton, Geordan Murphy.
Russia: Vasily Artemyev, Denis Simplikevich, Andrey Kuzin, Sergey Trishin, Vladimir Ostroushko, Konstantin Rachkov, Alexander Yanyushkin (captain); Victor Gresev, Andrey Garbuzov, Artem Fatakhov, Adam Byrnes, Denis Antonov, Alexander Khrokin, Valery Tsnobiladze, Sergey Popov. Reserves: Evgeny Matveev, Ivan Prishchepenko, Alexey Travkin, Alexander Voytov, Andrey Bykanov, Mikhail Sidorov, Mikhail Babaev.