Stepping-stone for Scots is landmark for Artemyev's Russia
It's the game before the big game for Scotland. It still needs to be won and won well.
The Scots hope Wednesday's Rugby World Cup Pool A encounter with Russia is not much more than a stepping-stone to a decisive pool finale with Japan to decide who will go through to the quarterfinals.
Anything short of a win with a four-try bonus point against the Russians will be a major disappointment and cause major complications for Scotland.
Coach Gregor Townsend thinks Scotland's reserve players will be good enough to get that done against the Bears of Russia. He made 14 changes to his team after the 34-0 win over Samoa. Significantly, halfback pairing Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell are rested completely, and captain Stuart McInally is on the bench.
Townsend made the most changes ever between World Cup games for a Scotland team.
The big moment is clearly the meeting with an unbeaten Japan in Yokohama on Sunday, a short turnaround that makes it difficult for the Scots to pick a full-strength team against Russia even if they wanted to do.
Scotland's still got to get it done in Shizuoka.
"We have Russia first and if we don't get the job done against Russia there is no point in even thinking about Japan because we need those five points," Scotland prop Zander Fagerson said. "Everything is focused on Russia and getting that bonus-point win."
Fagerson thinks he knows what to expect from Russia, who turned up to give Japan a scare in the tournament-opener.
"They are a very physical team," Fagerson said. "They are very well drilled in defense and have a really strong forward pack that try to smash you up physically."
After starting with promise against Japan, Russia wants to finish strong at the World Cup. Russian rugby stands at the end of an era.
Captain and fullback Vasily Artemyev, a record-holder and a warrior for the Bears for the last decade, will likely play his last World Cup game. Artemyev has started all seven of Russia's previous Rugby World Cup games. He'll captain Russia for the 34th time against Scotland and has a Russian record 29 test tries.
He's been everywhere with Russia. To World Cups in New Zealand in 2011 and this one in Japan. Also, to the less-celebrated rugby destinations, putting it on the line for his country in Montevideo against Uruguay, in Heidelburg against Germany, and in Botosani against Romania. That's just this season.
"I need to be realistic. This year, our journey at the World Cup is coming to an end on Wednesday," Artemyev said. "It's very probable that the next World Cup will be held without me as a player."
Russia's never been to a World Cup without him. And Russia's never won a World Cup game. So expect Russia, spirited anyway at this World Cup, to be extra motivated in its farewell for Artemyev.
"We would like to make it memorable for our fans, ourselves and the rugby world," center Dmitry Gerasimov said.
Russia will try to do one thing specifically, it says: Stop the Scots scoring so many tries. Sounds basic, but the Russians have conceded 15 tries in three games in Japan and they want that number to slow down. It's one target they have for Scotland, even if a win eludes them and Artemyev once more.
"They (Scotland) need to go for a bonus point against us and we've had enough of conceding four and more tries," Russia flyhalf Ramil Gaisin said.
The gap in standard between tier one Scotland and tier two Russia is clear. But Russia lost 35-0 to Ireland at this World Cup and Scotland lost 27-3 to the Irish. And on any given day ...
"Scottish people are not different from everybody else. They are human beings who are fallible when put under pressure. It's for us just to bring a little bit extra to our game," said Russia coach Lyn Jones, who is Welsh.
Scotland: Blair Kinghorn, Tommy Seymour, Duncan Taylor, Pete Horne, Darcy Graham, Adam Hastings, George Horne; Ryan Wilson, Fraser Brown, John Barclay (captain), Ben Toolis, Scott Cummings, Zander Fagerson, George Turner, Gordon Reid. Reserves: Stuart McInally, Simon Berghan, Willem Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Henry Pyrgos, Chris Harris.
Russia: Vasily Artemyev (captain), German Davydov, Vladimir Ostroushko, Dmitry Gerasimov, Vladislav Sozonov, Ramil Gaisin, Dmitry Perov; Nikita Vavilin, Tagir Gadzhiev, Vitaly Zhivatov, Evgeny Elgin, Andrey Ostrikov, Kirill Gotovtsev, Stanislav Selskii, Valery Morozov. Reserves: Sergey Chernyshev, Azamat Bitiev, Vladimir Podrezov, Bogdan Fedotko, Andrey Garbuzov, Sergey Ianiushkin, Anton Sychev, Yury Kushnarev.