One step forward for Russian rugby

The Rugby World Cup has come to an end. How did Russia get on?

The Bears exited at the pool stage after playing in only their second world cup finals (their debut in this tournament was in 2011).

However, they could not improve on their showing eight years ago – then they scored 57 points, ran in eight tries and landed a losing bonus point against the United States.

This time around things were much tougher.

They played in the tournament curtain-raiser against Japan and did cross the line after only five minutes, setting a new record for the fastest try scored in an opening match of a Rugby World Cup.

But they would go on to score only another 14 points in total (and no more tries) after this.

19 points from four games is very poor return.

I went to all three of then team’s warm-up matches in Moscow and got to know some of the squad during their summer preparations ahead of the tournament.

They won the first match, against a combined XV from the best of the Russia domestic league (minus those called up to the national squad).

But they went down easily in the other two games, against English Championship side Jersey Reds at the small Slava ground and versus Pro12’s Connacht at the much bigger Dinamo Moscow stadium.

And then when it came to the tournament proper, four defeats.

They came up against Ireland again (and captain Vasily Artemyev, in the selfie above, knows a lot of the Irish after going to secondary school in Dublin), as well as Scotland and the hosts Japan, and Russia lost those games, as was unfortunately expected.

They would have had the Samoa game labelled as the one opportunity for some possible points but lost that as well.

Despite the disappointing showing in Japan, there are already plans from Russia to explore a bid for the 2027 men’s world cup.

In 2014, Russia staged the 2014 Winter Olympics and last year, the country showed that it could handle another of the planet’s biggest showpieces: the men’s football world cup.

Could it do the same with rugby?

The game is returning to France, one of the sport’s key markets, for the 2023 event.

After that, would the game’s global leaders take a punt on another nascent market?

Japan is far more established in comparison with Russia, and 2019 was seen as a tentative (and overdue) move into a new market.

Argentina has not staged a World Cup and there is an unwritten rule that world cups swing between the two hemispheres.

After Japan 2019 and France 2023, the calls for another southern tournament from players in Argentina, South Africa and the trans-Tasman giants of Australia and New Zealand will be hard to resist.

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