The top two teams in European Championship B face off in the beautiful Alpine town of Gemona on Saturday (26th July), with Italy official Kelly Rolleston labelling it as a: “Must win game”.
Victory will see Italy, who have a superior points difference already, leap-frog Russia into top spot as the 2014/15 competition heads towards the half way stage.
Thundery showers are forecast which may restrict the attacking flair of the Italians as Russia attempt to avenge their only defeat of the title-winning 2012-13 campaign, in Este last year.
Newly crowned Italian champions Brescia send another two players to the Azzurri ranks in Alessio Curione and Andrea Jacotti and they are joined by uncapped duo Manuele Passera of beaten finalists XIII del Ducato and St Esteve front rower Romain Mencarini.
James Saltonstall and Matt Bradley are recalled by coach Paul Broadbent.
“With this game coming quickly after our win over Ukraine, we are excited to see even more new faces in the international arena after some very closely-contested domestic semis and finals,” enthused Broadbent.
“It will be good for us to see where we sit in our progression playing against Russia who have proved to be a real strength in the competition. We know they have strong outside backs and some smart play-makers; it will be a tough game and we need to bring our best game if we are to secure victory.”
Russia has prepared well, with three full training sessions, but they will be without unbeaten coach Igor Ovchinnikov who is prevented him from travelling with his squad because of long-held personal plans.
Leadership will come in the dependable guise of Eduard Ososkov and a clutch of tried and tested veterans.
The absence of Lokomotic Moscow duo Mikhail Nisiforov and rugged back rower Kirill Kosharin – arguably the best player in the competition so far – will be a blow, especially the giant 28-year-old Kosharin, who was originally named in the travelling party but who has had to belatedly withdraw through injury.
Nisiforov’s absence is offset by the inclusion of powerful strike centre Petr Botnarash, while Roman Ovchinnikov’s duel with counterpart Joel Miranda at hooker will be compelling.
“The Italian team is fast, skilful and aggressive in attack which was demonstrated in their game against Ukraine,” said Russian rugby league president Edgard Taturyan. “We are ready to compete against the Italians. We certainly hope to have a better result this time compared to the last year.”
ITALY 20-MAN SQUAD
Riccardo Scandurra (Ariete), Remi Fontana (Carpentras), Matt Bradley (Gloucestershire All Golds), Andrea Jacotti, Pierangelo Ceretti, Luca Milani, Alessio Curione, Giuseppe Pagani (Lions Brescia) Chris De Meyer, Luca Ameglio (NW Roosters), Jonathan Marcinczak (Racing Club Albi), Joel Miranda (Realmont), Romain Mencarini (St Esteve), Stefano Amura, Simone Boscolo (Torino XIII), James Saltonstall (York City Knights), Manuele Passera, Drake Muyodi, Raffaele Della Ragione, Diego Del Nevo (XIII del Ducato)
RUSSIA 17-MAN SQUAD
Petr Botnarash (Fili, RU), Artem Grigoryan, Ruslan Izmailov, Roman Ovtchinnikov, Andrey Zdobnikov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Dmitriy Bratko, Vadim Fedchuk, (Storm), Rustam Bulanov, Mikhail Burlutskiy, Anatoly Grigorev, Sergey Konstantinov, Aleksandr Lysokon, Alexey Nikolaev, Eduard Ososkov, Maksim Suchkov, Vladimir Vlasyuk (Vereya)