1 Jan 2013

The RLEF has released the reverse fixtures for the 2012-13 European Shield, which currently sees Russia sitting at the top of the table, with a maximum six points. The opening rounds, throughout 2012 saw tight competition, with the Bears claiming a six-point victory against Germany, a one-point success over Serbia and needing a final quarter comeback against Italy.

“We are in a strong position,” admited Russia coach Eduard Ososkov, “but we are looking at this round of fixtures as a fresh start. We will try some new schemes and combinations and we’ll be pressing for wins in all three matches.”

Ososkov will look to field a largely unchanged squad for Russia’s two away games in Serbia and Italy but expects to blood some new talent in August’s home tie against Germany. ”Our players have already started training with their clubs,” continued the former military intelligence officer. “We are in close contact with all the club coaches ahead of the championship, which starts at the beginning of April. In the middle of May we’ll play a trial between the current Bears and the student national team. The students play an extremely important role for us, having supplied five players to the Bears in 2012.”

The other three countries, all locked on two points, will be jostling to avoid relegation to the 2014 European Bowl, none more so than Italy who view the competition as an integral part of their preparations for the World Cup in October.

“The second year of the Shield is an important one for FIRL,” said head coach Carlo Napolitano. “Players who represent Italy in this competition could be running out in the World Cup. I don't think there is any more motivation required. All the games will be tough assignments but if we work hard as a unit we can gain some good results."

Germany coach Dan Stocks, who recently took advantage of RL Deutschland’s partnership with Warrington by spending two days with the Wolves’ performance staff, is keen to resume hostilities. “With strong performances against Serbia and Russia in 2012 we are hoping to build and compete across all three games,” he noted. “The game I am particularly looking forward to is Italy at home as we put in a poor performance against them in 2012 and are desperate to make amends.”

Stocks is hopeful that Germany, who will visit Russia for the first time, will field Leeds Rhinos star Jimmy Keinhorst as well as Championship 1 players Andy McLean (London Skolars) and Andy Hoggins (Oxford). Germany is planning to play a warm-up game against Holland on 4 May, two weeks before they travel to Belgrade. The match, set for the Dutch Independence Day weekend, could become an annual fixture.

Marko Janković, Serbia head coach, can be cautiously optimistic about his side’s chances after agonisingly losing two games by a single point. He said, “We see the second part of the competition as a chance to stabilise our results and, due to further squad renewal, to gain experience, self-confidence and to prepare for future steps forward. I believe we have good schedule. We’re looking forward to another interesting campaign."

Pictured: Russia celebrates after the narrow victory in Germany.

18 May – Serbia v Germany, FK Kabel Stadium, Novi Sad 1600 hrs
25 May – Serbia v Russia, FC Makis, Belgrade 1600 hrs
29 June – Italy v Russia, Stadio Communale, Padova 1700 hrs
27 July – Germany v Italy, Nordstern Stadion, Karlsruhe 1600 hrs
10 August – Russia v Germany, FC Nara, Naro-Fominsk 1600 hrs
14 September – Italy v Serbia, Stadio Beltrametti, Piacenza 1700 hrs