$15.5m invested, one year of preparation, Russia coach Lyn Jones says 'we did OK'
Lyn Jones gave his Russia side just a 20% chance of winning the World Cup opener on Friday against hosts Japan and with just a year’s preparation in place that may well have been a bit optimistic.
An 85-point defeat to Italy in the build-up looked ominous, but the 55-year-old Welsh coach actually saw his side beaten just 30-10 in Tokoyo but not after the Russians had scored a shock early try and then put in a spirited defensive display to keep the score respectable.
"We picked the fittest, fastest team we could tonight to put up with the speed of the Japanese boys and we did OK," said Jones after watching his side battle gamely.
And he may well have done his side a disservice because Jones’ influence was evident as the Bears’ spirit shone bright en route to defeat in only their second World Cup tournament.
With 25 years in coaching, Jones has admitted that Russia are where Wales were 20 years ago and admits there’s no quick fix for a side who he has been desperately trying to prepare to last 80 minutes against the world’s elite.
Russia have seen an investment of one billion roubles ($15.5m), but Jones knows things will not change over night.
Jones told The Guardian: “Russian rugby reminds me a lot of where we were in Welsh rugby in 1998-99: no academies, everyone bickering with each other, limited resources. But Wales got their act together and look where they are today.”
Former flanker Jones accepts that rugby is well down the pecking order of sports in Russia, and concedes that his work has been tough and sometimes eye-opening.
With an ex-Wrestler and bobsleigh rider Kiril Gotovtsev at tighthead prop, Jones might well have expected the unexpected.
“When players have a bit of spare time in the UK, the soccer ball or the cricket bat comes out and they have a little dabble of a game or two,” Jones told WalesOnline.
“In Russia, when there’s a spare five minutes, you look over your shoulder and there’s two players wrestling on the floor!
“You think there’s trouble afoot, but there’s not. It’s just part of the culture. They have a little wrestle with each other. It’s what they’ve grown up with.”
Jones though insists that his love of coaching has not dissipated, but has admitted that Russia has its fair share of people, who he diplomatically refers to as - having “an unqualified opinion”.
“That’s what I’m best at, being on the green, coaching players,” he told the Welsh outlet.
“What’s difficult, as a coach, is everything off the field, organizing and dealing with people who perhaps have a different idea of what rugby should look like and an unqualified opinion.
“But I still love being on the field helping players become better, designing new training methods.
“It’s hard work, but I am still enjoying it, which is nice. It’s fulfilling when you see improvement and you see people getting better.
“We have been steadily growing from month to month.
“It’s been a challenge. We’ve got four years of work to squeeze into one, so we haven’t got much time.
“But it’s been absolutely a pleasure and an honor and a fantastic sensation to come to Russia to coach players and to experience and meet people. It’s just totally new.”