Irish ride wave of support to beat Russia

by Staff Writer

The green army was once again out in force to watch Ireland defeat Russia 62-12 at Rotorua International Stadium on Sunday.

A capacity crowd of 25,661 mostly Irish fans - a sprinkling of vocal Russians still made their presence felt - cheered their team to a nine-tries-to-two victory in the Pool C match on Sunday.

Veteran Ronan O'Gara, the subject of intense speculation he will retire at the end of Ireland's RWC 2011 campaign, was named man of the match.

The 34-year-old Munster fly half controlled proceedings with his composure under pressure and pinpoint kicks, booting six conversions and a penalty goal before being rested in the second half.

Ireland backs Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls and young flanker Sean O'Brien were outstanding as coach Declan Kidney used the match to give his fringe players a decent run heading into the vital pool match against Italy in Dunedin next Sunday.

Good achievement

When asked if Ireland had built on the momentum gained from their stunning 15-6 win over Australia last Saturday, stand-in captain Leo Cullen said: "Obviously scoring nine tries in a World Cup game, it's a pretty good achievement.

"We talked about carrying on the momentum and building into the next week. There were patches in the game that weren't ideal but the conditions were tough.

"The ball was greasy and maybe we forced things a little bit too much at times, but overall I think we can be happy."

Roared on by sea of green, as they had been the previous Saturday in their stunning win over Australia, Ireland raced to a 17-0 lead after just 13 minutes, then struck a flat patch before scoring three quick tries before half-time.

The Bears trailed 43-0 early in the second half but came out of hibernation as exciting full back Vasily Artemyev, a former Ireland Under 19 representative, and wing Denis Simplikevich, showing the footwork of a Russian ballerina, scored two thrilling tries.

Hot and cold

But the tiring Russians, who lost six out of their 17 own lineouts, fell away in the final 20 minutes as Ireland crossed for another four tries.

"I think we had hot and cold patches," said Kidney, who made nine changes to the side that shocked Tri Nations champions Australia.

"In the second half, we fell off in the middle (stages) but then again, there were a lot of changes going in. We didn't finish off too bad. There were plenty of good things but a bit to work on, too."

Kidney was already looking ahead to the match against Italy as Ireland attempt to top their pool for the first time at a RWC.

"The fact we find ourselves in a winner-takes-all situation with Italy next Sunday, it's just like a Cup final," he said.

"There's obviously a big prize to play for in getting to the quarter-finals but you know you could be going home on the next flight, too."

Unlikely ally

Ireland found an unlikely ally in veteran outside centre Andrey Kuzin, who said he would be supporting the men in green against their Six Nations rivals at Otago Stadium.

"I wish victory to the stronger team, but I will go for Ireland," he said.

Russia coach Nikolay Nerush said his players felt intimidated by the raucous pro-Irish crowd.

"Probably it's something new for our guys to have 30,000 people around," he said.

"We felt psychological pressure, so we made simple mistakes, conceded penalties, conceded three tries in three minutes at the end of the first half. Then we got used to the atmosphere and started playing better."

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