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Dubliner McDermott ready to spring a surprise with Russia

 

Mark McDermott was living in the Caribbean and no longer in rugby when the call came from Russia. Four years on, he finds himself loving life in Japan as he prepares to play his part on the World Cup's opening night
Mark McDermott was living in the Caribbean and no longer in rugby when the call came from Russia. Four years on, he finds himself loving life in Japan as he prepares to play his part on the World Cup's opening night

By Ruaihdri O'Connor

Mark McDermott was living in the Caribbean and no longer in rugby when the call came from Russia. Four years on, he finds himself loving life in Japan as he prepares to play his part on the World Cup's opening night.

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The Dubliner, an uncle to Ireland's Andrew Conway - who he hopes to face in round three for a nice family reunion - will be assistant to Russia's Welsh coach Lyn Jones as they look to spoil hosts Japan's party at the Tokyo Stadium this morning.

Initially hired to assist Alexander Pervukhin, former Munster hooker McDermott stepped up to an interim coaching role and was in charge when the team qualified for Japan. When Jones got the job on a full-time basis, he returned to his previous role.

As the lowest ranked team - who made it here when Romania and Spain were thrown out for fielding ineligible players - the Bears face an uphill task in their second World Cup.

Their target is to win a first tournament game, but their pool is extremely tough, with Ireland, Scotland, Japan and Samoa all looking at them as an opportunity to pick up bonus points and boost their points differential in case things get tight on the final roster.

With 29 of the 31 players based in the Russian league and no central contracting system, they draw players from disparate parts of an enormous country to fight for a common cause.

Although a growing force at Sevens, they've yet to harness the obvious potential at XVs level, but they are currently in favour at government level and funding has increased.

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McDermott, who played in the era when Ireland was moving slowly from amateur to professional, sees echoes of that time as he whizzes from Siberia to Sochi to work with players and prepare the team.

The language barrier is one challenge, but there are plenty more. Local rivalries are fierce and time together is limited. The best players in the local league are 'legionnaires' who come from abroad and keep Russian players out of the side.

Unlike other tier two nations, Russia hasn't gone down the naturalisation route. All of their squad are Russian-born.

Ireland may be out of reach, but the former Irish Under-21 coach - who worked with Rory Best among others - is excited about the game in Kobe on October 3.

"It is going to be special. I'm a professional coach and my allegiances will 100 per cent be to Russia, but if my nephew was playing for Ireland it would make it more interesting," he concluded.

"I'm really looking forward to it - it should be a fantastic experience."

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