World Cup Qualifiers, Pool B – Ireland 70 Russia 16

With a 70 to 16 victory, the Irish Wolfhounds proved too strong for Russia’s improving Bears side on Saturday, setting up a mouth-watering double-header in Perth next November, when Ireland will play Wales in Group C of the 2017 World Cup on the same day as England will face France.

Running in 13 tries, including doubles to Alan McMahon, Scott Grix and Ollie Roberts to win by a record score, the Wolfhounds eclipsed their 2004, 64-6 triumph over the USA in Dublin. “It’s fantastic to make it to another World Cup,” said Ireland team manager, Ged Corcoran, “and great to have done it with some of the locally based, Ireland boys included in the side. I hope we can maintain that.”

The match was attended by the Russian ambassador to Ireland, who was among the dignitaries presented to the sides, and saw his men take a shock early lead, with Alexsandr Lysokon grubbering through for Vyascheslav Eramin to pounce, and Lysokon to score the extras. And they nearly scored again from a similar move but Ireland made the most of a penalty award, with Will Hope crossing and Liam Finn goaling.

Joe Keyes then broke clear, and quick hands sent Casey Dunne over and, in the next set, Finn’s kick was lost by the Russians and the ball shipped to the left, for Galway’s Alan McMahan to cross, and after Finn had converted both, Keyes’ pace around the ruck set up Grix to score his first try.

Shannon McDonnell spilled the restart and Leonid Kalinin scooted over for the Bears, from close range, before a wonderful offload by Mikhail Burklutskii put Vyascheslav away once more but he was just halted. On the counter, Finn’s great cut out pass sent Toby King over on his debut; McMahon then picked up a second from more expansive passing out wide; and just before the break, McDonnell made amends, latching onto Joe Philbin’s break and Hope’s pass.

The visitors started the second half determinedly but were undone on the back of another penalty, with Roberts profiting. George King then powered over and Grix danced through for his second, to bring up the half century just after the hour.

Exciting local product James Kelly was next to score, but the biggest cheer was reserved for Stuart Littler {on his final appearance before retirement), who went in out wide, although he missed the conversion. And it was Littler’s break on the next set that saw Roberts grab his brace, with Littler gaoling for his first two-pointer in Irish colours.

The Russians had the final say with a superb run by Kalinin, and a brilliant switch to Vadim Buryak to complete the scoring.

“We faced quality opposition and that showed,” commented Bears’ head coach, Denis Korolev, “but it will teach our domestic players a good lesson. We need to recover from this game now and then we will do our best against Italy.”

Ireland team manager, Ged Corcoran, summed up: “There are a lot of things to put in place now, but it’s about keeping this group together while adding some more quality and getting ready for the World Cup next year. We are going to be true to our word and look after those who have committed to us over the past three years, to get us here. There are no better places to go and play than Australia and Papua New Guinea.”

The Russian Bears will face Italy this Friday, in Leigh, England (kick off 8pm), to determine the 14th and final nation to qualify for the 2017 World Cup.