Any one of the three nations in European Championship B can win the competition, and qualify for the next stage of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, after Russia’s win over holders Serbia at the Fily Stadium in Moscow.
The Bears went down to Spain in Valencia by eight points the week before but now top the group on point’s difference, the Serbians having to win against the Spaniards in Belgrade next week to stay on the World Cup trail; the top two nations progressing.
“This was a completely different game for us,” said Russia head coach Denis Korolev. “There were still errors but the general progress was notable. This victory gives us the opportunity to grow, develop and show that rugby league exists in Russia.”
There was consternation in the lead up when Serbia’s Australian heritage players and head coach Brett Davidson were denied visas and there were doubts about the game going ahead, but with Radoslav Novaković in charge for the clash, the visitors began and ended well.
They were undone by three tries in 12 minutes at the start of the second period, Russia holding a narrow six point lead at the break, which saw the host’s pack gain the ascendancy. Inevitably, long standing MIFI stand off Aleksander Lysokon was at the heart of the best Russian moves, jinking over himself after only six minutes and adding a second try during the golden period, to go with four successful shots of goal.
Serbia hit back in the 15th minute to level through loose forward Predrag Keglić, Vojislav Dedić goaling and adding a 21st minute penalty to give his side a brief lead. Lysokon levelled with the boot and converted strong running back rower Vladislav Lesnikov’s try to make it 14-8 at half time.
Russian skipper Sergey Konstantinov, as he had the week before, powered over at the start of the second period, Lysokon mesmerising the defence for his brace and full back Nikolay Zagoskin breaking free to cross; Lysokon’s conversion taking the score out to a commanding 30-8.
But to their credit, late on, Serbia picked up the scores that could still prove crucial in such a tight group. Džavid Jašari and Red Star winger Rajko Trifunović going over on consecutive sets. The hosts had the final word with substitute Evgeniy Orlov’s try, Lysokon goaling to finish with 16 points,
Nikolay Zagoskin, Dmitrii Tarasenkov, Aleksander Naumov, Kirill Kosharin, Ilia Danilov, Aleksander Lysokon, Iustin Petrushka, Sergey Konstantinov, Igor Chuprin, Veacheslav Eremin, Dmitrii Leskov, Vladislav Lesnikov, Ivan Troitskiy
Substitutes: Boris Voloskov, Igor Abramov, Evgeniy Orlov, Denis Tuilenev
Tries: Lysokon (6, 49), Lesnikov (36), Konstantinov (41), Leskov (53), Zagoskin (61), Orlov (78)
Goals: Lysokon 4/8
Miloš Zogović, Rajko Trifunović, Aleksandar Djordjević, Stevan Stevanović, Petar Milanović, Vojislav Dedić, Dalibor Vukanović,, Vladica Nikolić, Vladislav Dedić, Vlado Kušić, Jason Muranka, Predrag Keglić, Vladimir Milutinović
Substitutes: Džavid Jašari, Djordje Stošić, Nikola Srbljanin, Miloš Aleksić
Tries: Keglić (15), Jašari (70), Trifunović (72)
Goals: Vojislav Dedić 3/4
Half time: 14-8
Referee: Liam Moore (England)
Man of the match: Aleksander Lysokon