Russian rugby team head coach Kingsley Jones will use the upcoming European Nations Cup to test out young players at the expense of more established names, he said in an interview with RIA Novosti.
The strategy could mean that stars like wing Vasily Artemyev and lock Andrei Ostrikov, who both play in the English Premiership, will sit out some games when the competition, seen as a second-tier Six Nations, starts February 4, Jones said. The aim is to build a squad for the 2015 World Cup in England.
"We’ve got to look to blood in a few new players who’ve been knocking on the door, possibly at the expense of one or two players who won’t be around in 2015,” Jones said at the Russian Rugby Academy in Moscow over the weekend.
“Having said that, of course the short-term goal is to qualify for 2015. We’re not stupid enough to take away all that experience that’s been gained.”
Russia is a rising force in rugby and made its World Cup debut New Zealand last year, winning acclaim for strong backs play against more established sides despite losing all four group games, as expected. Russia is currently ranked 20th in the world.
Rugby officials signaled their intent for the country to be a more serious contender at the big tournaments by appointing former Wales and British Lions flanker Jones, who was an assistant coach to Nikolai Nerush in New Zealand, to the top job in December.
The European Nations Cup is his first serious test as Russia coach, and he warned he is not about to let emotions get in the way of team selection.
He pointed to two veteran props, 35-year-old Alexander Khrokin and 34-year-old Alexey Travkin as players who could be the first to make way.
“I’m not saying it’s the end for those guys, but we certainly need to look to what’s behind them. I won’t lie, if there’s fifty-fifties in selection, I’m going to look at the player I haven’t seen before as opposed to the player I know. It’s not really an age thing, it’s a chance to look at other people.”
Jones said that Australian-born lock Adam Byrnes, who featured in the Russia squad at the 2011 World Cup, remained in his plans. “His form will decide whether he plays again,” he said.
The Russian Union of Rugby is not scouting for more foreign-based players eligible to play for Russia, Jones said. “I don’t foresee importing players. I think it’s a short-term fix. The Adam Byrnes thing, he deserved it, no regrets.”
Jones said he had not considered persuading two New Zealand-born fly halves who play for Russian league clubs to switch allegiances and play for Russia. John Dodd and Ryan Bambry have played at Krasniy Yar and Yenisei-STM for the last few years.
“It’s certainly something I haven’t encouraged or made contact about. If they become available to me, they’ll be considered.”