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Russia finally plays 1st-ever match at Rugby World Cup, last of 20 teams to do so

09/14/2011 06:59 EDT | Updated 01/12/2012 02:20 EST
NEW PLYMOUTH, New Zealand - After the longest wait of any team in the tournament, Vladislav Korshunov and his Russian squad will finally make their debuts at the World Cup in a Pool C match against the United States.

The other 19 teams will have already played by the time the match kicks off Thursday in New Plymouth and the Russians are desperate to get into match mode so they can stop fielding questions about Cold War connotations for the match.

"This is a game to see which side is the better rugby team," Russian manager Zonik Masandilov said. "Nothing more."

The U.S. Eagles opened their campaign with a 22-10 loss to Ireland on Sunday, only hours after attending a commemoration service for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and will have gained confidence from the tough first match.

Confidence "is there in the way we put together a lot of phases of play, but we have to keep that going and not take any steps back," said U.S. captain Todd Clever, the Eagles' best against Ireland. "We set the bar and hopefully we can continue to raise it."

Russia's coaching director Kingsley Jones said while it was good to be fresh going into a match, the long wait to get started had been tough for his squad.

"There is an edge in training since we got here and particularly since the tournament started -- the game cannot come soon enough, I think," he said. "It's a massive game and I think we could not have wished for a better opponent to start the tournament."

With both teams targeting this as a must-win, United States Eagles coach Eddie O'Sullivan made just three changes to his starting lineup for the match.

After struggling in the scrums against Ireland, two of the changes come in the front row, where Chris Biller comes in at hooker and Matekitonga Moeakiola at tighthead.

"There isn't a huge difference between guys, and our starting front row changes all the time," said O'Sullivan.

The other change is at fullback where Chris Wyles replaces Blaine Scully, who drops to the bench.

Perhaps the Eagles' biggest potential problem is the four-day turnaround between matches.

"There was a bit of delayed onset of fatigue coming through but we didn't do much today and we'll have a light run through tomorrow," O'Sullivan said.

The eight-day break the Eagles will get before its next match against Australia meant they could throw everything at Russia, he said.

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United States: Chris Wyles, Takudzwa, Paul Emerick, Andrew Suniula, James Paterson, Roland Suniula, Mike Petri, Nic Johnson, Todd Clever (captain), Louis Stanfil, Hayden Smith, John van der Giessen, Matekitonga Moeakiola, Chris Biller, Mike MacDonald. Reserves: Phil Thiel, Shawn Pittman, Scott LaValla, Pat Danahy, Tim Usasz, Nese Malifa, Blaine Scully.

Russia: Igor Klyuchnikov, Vladimir Ostroushko, Konstantin Rachkov, Alexey Makovetskiy, Vasily Artemyev, Yury Kushnarev, Alexander Shakirov, Vyacheslav Grachev, Artem Fatakhov, Denis Antonov, Alexander Voytov, Ivan Prishchepenko, Vladislav Korshunov (captain), Sergey Popov. Reserves: Valery Tsnobiladze, Alexander Khronkin, Vladimir Botvinnikov, Adam Byrnes, Victor Gresev, Alexander Yanyushkin, Andrey Kuzin.

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