16 Jul 2015

Ukraine and Italy will meet for the first time on Saturday (18 July) in Irpin, 40km outside Kiev, the hosts’ opening home match in the competition after political turmoil in the country. They are looking for their initial win in the competition, but the Ukrainians are still in with a mathematical chance of coming third; making the 2016 European Qualifiers for the next World Cup and avoiding relegation to Euro C.

Should they be successful against an out-of-sorts Italy who are four points better off, then it will come down to the final two games, both played on 12 September, with Italy travelling to Moscow and Ukraine hosting table-topping Serbia needing a big win and a heavy Italian defeat to have a chance.

Ukraine coach Gennady Vepryk has delivered a stark battle-cry to his squad, “There is nowhere left to retreat to!” he said, as his squad assembles in Kharkov for a three-day training camp ahead of the clash, adding, “We will get together and prepare for our most important match in this competition.”

In a statement of intent he has already named his 17 but two of his best forwards, tackling dynamo Sergii Kravchenko and industrious front row Maksym Miroshnichenko, are out injured with new caps, Krivbas’s Roman Shashkov and Legion XIII’s Aleksandr Scherbina, taking their spots.

“Artur Martyrosyan will also play instead of the injured Dmytro Stepanenko,” continued Vepryk. “I think these changes will strengthen our attack. During our preparations we will analyse the previous games carefully. I hope that our players have learned valuable lessons from our defeats and that we’ll be able to take the fight to what is a really well-known Italian team.”~

Italy coach Paul Broadbent makes eight changes from the side defeated by Serbia at home last month. Halfback Remi Fontana is unavailable and is replaced by NW Roosters play-maker Chris De Meyer, while veteran forwards Matt Sands and Angelo Ricci make their return to the national team after long absences. Young Sheffield Eagles forward Santino Decaro makes his debut.

Broadbent said, “We’re expecting a really big game from the Ukrainians playing in front of their spectators for the first time at this level. It’s a bit of unknown territory - we don’t know what they’ll be like on their own patch.  We have a strong squad and we should be capable enough to get a result. Decaro has a good rugby league grounding and we expect him to give us a good lead. He’s got a good work rate and is a strong carrier.”

The match will be live streamed through the Ukrainian federation website.

Pictured: Ukraine play-maker Oleksandr Skorbach will be looking to influence proceedings.

Svyatoslav Аndreichenko, Igor Urkin (Atlant Dnepropetrovsk), Mykola  Shalaiev, Roman Shashkov (Krivbas, Krivoi Rog), Andrii Bashevskyi, Pavlo Kardakov, Volodomyr Karpenko, Oleksandr Kozak, Artur Martyrosyan, Volodymyr Mashkin, Aleksandr Scherbina, Oleksandr Skorbach, Mykhailo Troyan, Evgenii Тrusov, Bogdan Vepryk (Legion XIII, Kharkiv), Vadim Polyuhovich (RK Rivne, Rovno), Ostap Grischenko (Sokol, Lvov)

Stefano Amura, Simone Boscolo, Idammou El Mehdi, Saif Mhadhbi, Matthew Sands (Ariete Este), Gioele Celerino (Coventry Bears), Nicola Bellotti, Pierangelo Ceretti, Luca Milani, Luca Rossetti (Lions Brescia), Luca Ameglio, Chris De Meyer (NW Roosters), Santino Decaro (Sheffield Eagles), Catalin Diac (Torino XIII), Richard Lepori (Whitehaven), Diego Del Nevo, Octavian Ilinca, Emanuele Passera (XIII de Ducato), Jonathan Marcinczak, Angelo Ricci (unattached)