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Russia coach McDermott expecting an Ireland backlash from his nephew Andrew Conway

Family affair: Russia assistant coach Mark McDermott (left) will see nephew Andrew Conway line up for Ireland
Family affair: Russia assistant coach Mark McDermott (left) will see nephew Andrew Conway line up for Ireland

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Mark McDermott watched Ireland's performance with a growing sense of dread. As an Irishman, he couldn't believe Joe Schmidt's side were losing their grip against the rampant hosts, while, as assistant coach to their next opponents Russia, he knew there'd be a backlash.

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Sitting in his side's team base in Oiso, a sleepy, out-of-season beach resort hours from Kobe, where his side take on his home nation on Thursday, McDermott remains shocked by the second-half slippage against Japan.

The lowest-ranked team in the tournament, the Bears have acquitted themselves well considering they took on the hosts on opening night and only had a four-day turnaround before losing to Samoa after a game first half.

Thursday is a step up, however, and McDermott is realistic to know that his team's chances are slim against an Irish side with plenty to prove.

"They're going to have some sort of reaction to what happened last week against Japan," he said. "It's kind of hard to believe that Ireland found themselves in this position. I watched that second half against Japan in disbelief.

"Obviously, I know Japan. We've studied them for a year and know what they're capable of, but I didn't see that level of performance coming.

"A worrying aspect from an Irish context was that when they were under pressure in that second half they weren't able to find their way out of that pressure. Our goal is to be competitive, maybe give Ireland a bit of a scare for a bit."

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Ireland fans could do without any more frights but, while Japan were underrated as 21-point outsiders, the spread on this game is 54 points.

Russia's aim was to win one of their first two matches, but the short turnaround was a killer.

"If you look at us, we faded away considerably in the second half against Samoa. Uruguay were blown away by Georgia. Fiji, even though they made their changes, (lost to Uruguay)," McDermott said.

"These are not meant to be ironman competitions, but they're turning into that. It's not a case that the tier two teams are treated differently, Ireland have a five-day turnaround to this game, England had a short turnaround from their first game, but the difference is they have bigger squads to manage the situation better."

Captain Vasily Artemyev, once of Blackrock and UCD, has gone viral with his impassioned post-match interviews with his talk of wanting to earn respect for the Russian game in Japan.

"I think they've kind of achieved that. Personally, I'd have taken the view that we'd an opportunity to win one of those first two games and I'm bitterly disappointed about that," McDermott said.

"But it is probably a reflection of the journey maybe started 10 months ago and we haven't quite got there yet.

"Domestically, they will go home with their heads held very high and that's important for them. Vasily's really brought a personality - particularly on the viral side of things.

"He's been an unbelievable ambassador. He has a role somewhere in Russian rugby, it may not be coaching but what a brand ambassador.

"I hope that when he's fulfilled his playing days there's a place for him somewhere in Russian rugby."

Thursday's game will also be a family affair for McDermott, whose nephew Andrew Conway starts on the wing for Ireland.

"Everyone knew his attacking ability, but there were question marks over his defence and his high ball ability, but he is one of the best in the business now," McDermott said with pride of his nephew, who followed his lead by switching to Munster.

"That's a real commendation to him and the people who are looking after him. It's a good success story.

"How many guys have we known over the years with buckets of talent, but they don't kick on?"

He'll park the pride for 80 minutes and have a nice family moment when the game is done.

For now, the plan is to make life difficult for Conway and co. in Kobe.

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