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Sleeping giant facing 'Everest' climb

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Sleeping giant have 'Everest to climb' to be ready for Pool A in Rugby World Cup

Former Wales flanker Lyn Jones admits he has an “Everest to climb” to make Russia competitive at next year’s Rugby World Cup where they will open the tournament against hosts Japan.

The two teams meet in the less glamorous surroundings of Gloucester’s Kingsholm stadium on Saturday, 10 month before the eyes of the rugby world will be on them at the 50,000 seat Tokyo Stadium on September 20. The Japan team are coming off a 35-15 loss to England which saw them grab a 15-10 half time lead before Eddie Jones’s men moved up the gears for a comfortable win at Twickenham.

Now Jones, whose Russian team finished fourth in the European Nations Cup but moved up to second after the controversial demotion of Romania and Spain for fielding ineligible players, are preparing for Cup fixtures in Pool A against Ireland, Scotland, Samoa and Japan.

“My appointment was going to be for the long term, but since that we’ve been handed an opportunity to play in the World Cup which gives me a bit of an Everest in front of me,” Jones told BBC Sport Wales. “We’ve landed a hot-spot in the Rugby World Cup by default, so we’ve got a mountain to climb.

Pocock on the charge versus Russia in 2011 (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

“We’re excited, the players are delighted and it’s going to be the most exciting year of their rugby career. They’re focused, and Russian boys work hard, they’re disciplined and they’re proud.”

Russia have two players with experience of the English Premiership in Sale lock Andrei Ostrikov and former Northampton back Vasily Artemyev, while their top club sides have been given European exposure in the Challenge Cup. Jones is convinced Russia is a “sleeping giant” and knows the World Cup could be a significant moment in the country’s rugby life.

“We have the hosts on day one, then we play Samoa four days after, and as poor as they are for three years, for the World Cup year they can be very tasty with all their big hitters back,” added Jones who coached the Ospreys and Dragons in Wales. “Then there’s the small matter of taking on Ireland and the ‘Scottish Barbarians’, so it’s a great challenge.

“We saw huge performances from Japan and Namibia in the last World Cup, so anything can happen on the day. I went in with my eyes wide open, in tier two nations there’s a huge (sporting) political system. But there’s a lot of good rugby players in Russia, and it’s a sleeping giant.

“There are lots of plans for the long-term development of the game; at the moment it’s about the short term, but there’s lots of good things going on.”

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Sleeping giant have 'Everest to climb' to be ready for Pool A in Rugby World Cup