National rugby team faces the unknown when they play Russia for the first time

There could be some cautious opening minutes in Saturday’s international rugby match between Russia and Canada.

VANCOUVER — There could be some cautious opening minutes in Saturday’s international rugby match between Russia and Canada.

Neither of the teams knows much about the other, so there will probably be “a bit of a feeling-out period,” Canadian captain Pat Riordan said Thursday.

“It’s a test match so there is a lot at stake,” the bearded hooker from London, Ont., said at a news conference. “Both teams will be trying to not make mistakes, which can make for boring watching.

“Usually one of the backs gets bored and goes out and tries something.”

The game, which will be played at Swangard Stadium in nearby Burnaby, will be the first meeting between the national teams from the two countries. The Russians look at the match as an important building block as they prepare for another round of World Cup qualifying in the new year.

“The main aim is to play a good standard of team in Canada,” head coach Nikolay Nerush said through an interpreter. “We hope to give some players a test before the qualifying period stars in February.”

The Russians lost 38-16 to the B.C. Bears, a senior men’s team, Tuesday night in Victoria. Nerush will field a more experienced squad this weekend.

“We tried to look at a few new guys,” he said. “We didn’t have a good start and good control of the game.”

Canadian coach Kieran Crowley doesn’t expect much love from the Russians.

“They bring a very physical approach to the game,” he said. “They’ve got a big lineup. They play a very direct game.”

Riordan said the Russians are a bit of an unknown. The Canadians have some film of their matches in Europe, but video doesn’t always tell the full story.

“They are a lot like us in that they go a six-month period without playing,” he said. “When you are looking at video from six months ago, a lot of things can change.”

Crowley agreed.

“You do your homework,” he said. “You don’t know their players. There could be a player that comes in you don’t know anything about and suddenly he is a superstar.”

Riordan said national pride is stirred, no matter what the sport, when Canada faces Russia.

“We already have a bit of a rivalry when Russia plays us in hockey,” he said. “Hopefully it will grow in rugby as well.”

Russia has never qualified for the Rugby World Cup but currently sits second in its group behind Georgia. The Russians will play another round of qualifying games Portugal, Spain, Romania, Germany and Georgia in February and March.

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