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Dark Horses Russia Hope to Spring a Surprise on Japan in 2019 Rugby World Cup Opener

Russia’s  Welsh-born coach Lyn Jones says he has a cunning plan to ambush hosts Japan in the opening game of the Rugby World Cup on Friday, 20 September.

Japan’s New Zealand-born captain, Michael Leitch, is one of eight players who played in the Brave Blossoms’ famous match in September 2015 when they beat South Africa 34-32 in Brighton, thanks to a last-gasp try by another former Kiwi, Karne Hesketh.

Japan are ranked as the world’s 10th best team and Russia are ranked 19 so victory for The Bears, captained by Vasily Artemyev, would be quite a shock.

​Jones, a Welshman who started coaching Russia last year, said: "We do have a plan. We have got a formula and we think we can take Japan on and make life as difficult as possible for them. With structured and organised sides like Japan you need to create chaos to get them to think for themselves.”

The two teams played a friendly in England in November and Japan scraped to a 32-27 win but they know it will be close in Tokyo on Friday.

Jones said Russia had potential match-winners in wingers Kirill Golosnitskiy and German Davydov.

Jones said: "They're fantastic players and they know the way to the line. But we appreciate the 10 years advantage Japan have over us and that they're entering the game as firm favourites.”

This is only Russia’s second appearance in the Rugby World Cup, when they were destroyed 85-15 by Italy, one of the poorer European teams.

Skipper Vasily Artemyev, 32, said: "Through the last week we've had an unprecedented amount of attention. It's a bit unusual for our boys -- we're quite humble players and don't get this exposure in Russia. But it's going to be awesome and everyone is hugely motivated. We've put in the work and now we're looking to get results."

New Zealand, who won the cup in 2015, are the hot favourites again this year but they will face a strong challenge from England and Wales.

The sport was invented at Rugby School in England in 1845 but 50 years later it split into two codes - rugby union and rugby league.

Rugby league is played only in Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand while rugby union is played in many countries, including Russia.

Rugby was first played in Russia under the tsars but it has only gained any popularity since the fall of the Soviet Union, although there are still only a few hundred players and crowds are tiny compared to football.

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