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Russia V Tasman Orcas - Review
The Tasman Orcas claimed their first international rugby league scalp while also ruining Russia's New Zealand debut with a 32-16 win at Trafalgar Park on Monday.
It was the worst possible start to the Bears' four-match southern tour, with the Orcas outscoring the visitors by six tries to three.
The tourists began well enough when big second rower Aidar Akhmetshin burst through a tentative Orcas defensive line from 60 metres out after just 10 minutes and showed impressive speed to sprint to the line.
The Orcas reacted superbly to effectively dominate the rest of the half, as their significantly improved defence and some expert skills by playmaker and scrumhalf Phil Tavite turned the game around.
Tavite began the fightback by scoring after 23 minutes, before offloading twice in tackles to set up tries for hooker Randall Dixon and winger Tumua Ioane.
With the Orcas ahead 14-6 at halftime, Tavite revealed his attacking skills again 13 minutes after the restart when he slipped through a defensive hole and set up loose forward Jeremy Parata with a perfect inside pass.
Trailing 20-6 with just 13 minutes left, quick tries to Rafael Yakubov and Alexander Lysenkov against a tiring Orcas defence suddenly had the Russians back in touch at 20-16.
But the Orcas broke loose again, with tries to Maika Matekohi and Villiami Maea inside the last four minutes ending an entertaining match.
Besides Tavite's superb touches, the Orcas were well served by aggressive new winger Tumua Ioane and the tireless go-forward of Ben Cooper, Parata and Brendon Hibbs. Prop Aaron Bainbridge made more of a second half impact as Nukumai Jansen also picked up the pace against a pressured Russian defence.
Coach Phil Bergman had impressed on his players the need for consistent defensive pressure, and it paid huge dividends as the Russians continued to cough up possession. He was also delighted with his players' fitness, despite letting in two late tries to get the visitors back within striking distance.
"I was always worried about how our fitness was going to hold but I was very happy with the boys," said Bergman. "In fact, the pressure we talked about the other day, it was just what we wanted.
"We slowly wore Russia down and they were doing silly things like just running in and dropping the ball. That comes from defensive pressure, so the boys did well; I was very pleased."
Captain and fullback Justin Gunn constantly made his presence both heard and felt at the back as he marshalled his defensive line, while also committing himself to plenty of the hard work.
While acknowledging the Orcas' staunch efforts, Russian coach Bob Bailey was disappointed by his team's performance.
"I thought we could have won it, quite honestly, but it was one of those games where we just couldn't put two passes together," said the former Kiwis coach.
"We dropped a lot of ball and missed too many tackles by trying to bump instead of tackle. If there was anything we could do wrong, we did. I thought we were very poor."