In extremely hot conditions, in neutral Belgrade, Russia secured their place in the 2016 European Qualifiers for the 2017 World Cup with a hard fought win over Ukraine. The Bears were deserving winners but were made to work for victory by a very competitive and proud Ukrainian side, who can still make the qualifiers themselves if they win their last two matches and Italy lose theirs.
Russia coach Roman Ovchinnikov commented, “We’re really happy to get through to the next stage of the World Cup, but we know it’s only going to get tougher.
“We need to get more experience at international level, to improve our training regime. We’ve got one more game against Italy in Moscow but then we’ll have to look for more friendly games. We stuck to our game plan today, we really wanted to play it wide. We got tries from the wingers and full back, so the plan was very complete.”
In front of Maurice Watkins and Nigel Wood, the RLEF and RLIF chairmen respectively and a big crowd, both sides showed the true spirit of sportsmanship ahead of any political issues between the countries.
Both started slowly making early handling errors in contact as the packs tested each other. Three consecutive penalties conceded by the Ukrainians, all for offences at the play the ball, eventually saw the pressure tell, with man of the match, Russia full back Dmitriy Bratko over on the end of a quick passing move and a clever Artem Grigoryan pass.
Aleksandr Lysokon missed the conversion but nearly turned provider a few minutes later when he dodged several tackles and tried to pass inside to Sergey Gaponov, but the ball was too low and he knocked on.
Russia were dominating and some clever interplay made great metres, only for Vladimir Odnumsov to be pulled up after a forward pass. Ukraine took a more direct route, but a loose pass from Oleksandr Skorbach went into touch.
Russia increased their lead when winger Denis Korolev finished off a thrilling passage of play after Lysokon had broken the line and the ball been shipped wide through numerous hands, Grigoryan missing the conversion.
Ukraine won the ball back from the kick off and powered forward, a kick from Andrii Bashevski just going dead, but continued to pressure the Russian line saw them get their reward with centre Mykhailo Troyan running a fine angle to score, Skorkach with the conversion.
Skorbach was only denied when his dribbling attempt ended up in Bratko’s hands and Russia weathered the storm and found their way over for the third time on the half hour, as Korolev danced through the Ukrainian defence but Bratko was wide with the conversion attempt.
The Russians increased their lead to 18-6 on the next set when Anton Zabelin powered over from close range after another great passing movement, Bratko with the extras but Ukraine hit back before the break on the back of a couple of repeat sets; a great pass from Skorbach sending Bogdan Veprik in at the corner for an unconverted try.
Russia was dealt a blow just before half time when Korolev was injured slipping on the surface and carried off but they started the second half strongly and Rustam Bulanov was unlucky to lose the ball in contact after catching a clever kick from Lysokon.
Nevertheless, they decided to run a penalty in front of the posts and were rewarded when Bratko put Bulanov over in the corner after a quick passing play to make it 22-10.
With Roman Ovchinnikov and Georgy Vinogradov dictating, Bulanov inexplicably knocked on with the line begging and only further handling errors prevented Ovchnnikov and Vladimir Odnosumov from extending the lead.
As the heat seemed to be taking its toll, a brilliant, twisting run by Bratko, saw him leave the Ukranian defence in his wake to score, Lysokon adding the conversion but Ukraine hit back with a clever short kick off giving them excellent field position and they scored at the end of the set when Veprik went over in the corner for his second try.
Volodymyr Mashkin misjudged the kick off and Ukraine were forced to drop out then conceding two penalties, and Russia punished them with Zabelin claiming his second touchdown, Lysokon successful with the boot to open up a 20-point gap.
Troyan went close to taking Skorbach’s high kick after a great run by Volodomyr Karpenko but, this time, Veprik was unable to handle a scoring pass and Vadim Polyuhovich was adjudged to be held up after catching Skorbach’s excellent kick to the corner, Bulanov’s last ditch tackle stopping him.
The pressure eventually told and Ukraine finally found their way over when Skorkach chased his own kick and out-muscled Bratko to score between the posts and goal with eight minutes remaining.
They were denied late tries when Mashking was penalised for crossing and Maksym Miroshichenko recalled for a forward pass.
“I’m really not happy with the result,” said Ukraine head coach Gennardy Veprik. “We thought we were going to do better, but we made too many simple mistakes and from the more experienced players. Russia was a really tough opponent.
“We know we are still in contention and I told the players after the game to keep their heads up. Nothing is lost yet and we have to take the next two games really seriously. We’re going to analyse this one and come back stronger.”
Volodymyr Mashkin, Bogdan Vepryk, Mykhailo Troyan, Mykola Shalaiev, Vadim Polyuhovich, Oleksandr Skorbach, Andrii Bashevskyi, Oleksandr Kozak, Pavlo Kardakov, Volodomyr Karpenko, Igor Urkin, Evgenii Тrusov, Sergii Kravchenko
Subs (all used) Svyatoslav Аndreichenko, Maksym Miroshnichenko, Dmytro Stepanenko, Ostap Grischenko
Tries: Troyan (25), Veprik (38, 58), Skorkach (72)
Goals: Skorkach 2/4
Dmitriy Bratko, Denis Korolev, Andrey Zdobnikov, Mikhail Burlutskiy, Bakhodur Mamadzhanov, Aleksandr Lysokon, Artem Grigoryan, Anatolii Grigorev, Roman Ovtchinnikov, Georgy Vinogradov, Vladimir Odnosumov, Anton Zabelin, Sergey Gaponov
Subs (all used) Rustam Bulanov, Anton Timotin, Vladimir Ovchinnikov, Vladimir Vlasyuk
Tries: Bratko (5, 56) , Korolev (14, 30) , Zabelin (32, 63), Bulanov (44)
Goals: Lysokon 2/3, Grigoryan 0/1, Bratko 1/3
Referee; Tom Mather
Half time: Ukraine 10 Russia 18
Man of the match: Dmitriy Bratko