Russia captain Vasily Artemyev has warned Japan that unless they bring their “A-game” in Friday’s Rugby World Cup opener, the hosts could face a mauling.
The Japanese go into their Pool A clash in Tokyo as strong favorites, but Artemyev insisted that Russia’s “Bears” would be ready to pounce if Jamie Joseph’s side fail to produce their best.
“The pressure is on Japan to perform in front of their home crowd,” said Artemyev. “In realistic terms, we may only have a 20% chance – but we will do our best definitely to spoil it for Japan.
“As strong as they are, Japan will have to bring their A-game to win,” added Russia’s record try-scorer. “If they play any less, I think we’ll have a good chance.”
Japan, ranked 10th in the world, squeaked a narrow 32-27 victory when the teams met last November. And Artemyev promised the Russians would rise to the challenge in front of 40,000 fans in Tokyo, while attempting to ratchet up the mind games.
“If we were playing against an underdog team, we would be under a lot of pressure to get the win under our belts,” said the 32-year-old, who starts as full-back against Japan.
“I don’t think we need to put any pressure on ourselves. Everybody understands how big the game is, how big the occasion is – there will be enough adrenaline in our bodies to raise the dead.”
Japan, who sent shockwaves through rugby by stunning South Africa 34-32 in their World Cup opener four years ago, have targeted reaching the knockout stages for the first time.
The Brave Blossoms will likely need to beat Scotland in their final group game to achieve that, following fixtures against Ireland and Samoa, leaving them no margin for error.
But Artemyev has threatened to cause “chaos” to Japan’s plans on Friday, despite Russia’s shaky build-up to the tournament, which included a record 85-15 pummelling by Italy.
“We’ve been working really hard to be competitive – we’re not just another team Japan can push over,” said the veteran winger, who went to university in Dublin and speaks English with a distinctly Irish twang.
“It’s almost a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a lot of the guys. We need to counter their organization and add a little bit of chaos into their organization.”
Russia coach Lyn Jones predicts a “fast and furious” game against the Japanese and has backed wingers Kirill Golosnitskiy and German Davydov to keep Japan’s defense busy.
Artemyev, meanwhile, pointed to an experienced core of players in the Bears side who can bring a sense of calm in only the country’s second World Cup appearance, and first since 2011.
“The amount of attention is a bit unusual for our boys,” he admitted. “But we have a good mixture of youth and experience and you learn how to manage your nervousness and your emotions for big games.
“The experienced guys with cooler heads can direct the hot-hearted guys like German towards the same goal.”
Artemyev can’t wait for kick-off. “Many of our modern supporters don’t remember us playing in 2011 in New Zealand,” he said.
“We want to show we can compete against Tier One nations and we want to become a regular fixture at the World Cup – that’s our main goal for the future.”