The Russian rugby squad are planning to become the first-ever rookies to win a game at the World Cup as the national team take off for New Zealand on Sunday.
The wait is almost over for the 30 players, who have spent the last three months training intensively and gaining vital match experience.
Before setting off on their long-anticipated journey, the team spoke to the media about their hopes and expectations ahead of what will be the greatest moment so far in their sporting careers.
Vasily Artemev, who plays club rugby in England, is delighted the wait is almost over, and that Russia can start to do their talking on the rugby pitch.
“The idea of the World Cup has been hanging over us for a long time and it’s been coming closer day by day during the last month. It’s just a bit of a relief that it’s finally coming. And when we get there it’s going to be a relief despite growing nervousness before the first game,” he said.
Russia might be one of the tournament’s minnows, but the Northampton winger is just glad to be fulfilling a World Cup dream.
“I couldn’t even dream of this when I was younger. Playing for Russia and doing this at the World Cup. But for the last few years it has been a dream and I literally dreamt of playing at the World Cup,” Artemev said.
Russia have a long way to go until they can even think of being able to compete on a level playing field with the likes of New Zealand and Australia.
However, the president of the Russian Rugby Union says the fact his country have finally made it to the finals will help boost the profile of the sport in his country.
“It’s the first time ever we’ve qualified for the Rugby World Cup. It’s a great achievement for the Russian team and Russian rugby because never before have we had such an opportunity to play with the world’s most famous and strongest teams. Of course, it won’t be easy to play with them or, fortunately, maybe beat some of these teams,” Vyacheslav Kopev said.
Russia play their first match of the tournament on September 15. Given that they are in a group with Italy, Australia and Ireland, it is the game with the Americans the Russian coaching staff will be targeting as they look to become the only team ever to win a match in their first World Cup.
Meanwhile, former All Black legend Sean Fitzpatrick is delighted that Russia have made it to the World Cup. And he says the whole of New Zealand is buzzing ahead of the tournament, which kicks off on Friday 9 September.
“It’s been three or four years since we’ve known we’ve won the right to host the World Cup. And New Zealand can’t wait. It was 1997we last held it and a lot has changed in New Zealand since then. As a nation, there’s four million people, we’re talking about a stadium of four million people, looking forward to welcoming the rugby world,” he said.
Despite a disappointing tour of the United Kingdom recently, where they lost all four games against English and Welsh club sides, morale in the Russian camp is high.
And even if they lose all four games in New Zealand, the most important thing is that they have become the first players to represent their country at the third-biggest sporting event in the world.