2015: Year in Review Part 2

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 2015 Year in Review Part 1: Jan-July http://www.rugby.ru/eng/2015-the-story-so-far.html

August

Domestic competition took centre stage through August, as the Russian Rugby Premier League (RRPL) moved into its second stage, as the top four teams formed one group to fight for the title and the remainder played-off for positions. Krasnoyarsk won the Russian Cup for a record-tying 8th time as they beat Slava Moscow in the final. There was more success for the green-and-whites as their women’s sevens side claimed two of three legs in the Russian championship for the overall win. Meanwhile, Krasnoyarsk also came out on top in the country’s U18 cup, with Enisei-STM taking the spoils. Elsewhere, Get into Rugby continued its push into Russia with Perm the latest region to join the World Rugby programme.

Alongside more traditional forms of rugby, summer in Russia is Beach Rugby season. Following successful tournaments in Kazan and Yaroslavl, Moscow hosted 24 men’s, 8 women’s, 8 veterans and 8 Under-14s teams for the WETT Trophy on August 8-9, with Jurmala coming away with the women’s prize and Dinamo the men’s. Off-the-field, August began with the Olympic movement and the global rugby family officially marking the beginning of the one-year countdown until Rugby’s return to the Olympic Games following a 92-year absence.

September

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The Rugby World was focused on England in September as Rugby World Cup (RWC2015) Pool Play kicked off. While Russia were sadly unable to join a highly successful tournament for Tier 2 rugby nations, there was one person representing Russia front stage at RWC2015, with Penza’s Mikhail Sokoltsev officially presenting the match ball ahead of the Scotland vs Japan Pool B match. The 10-year-old rugby player won a competition by Tournament Sponsor DHL and had a moment which will last a lifetime as he led the two teams out at Gloucester’s iconic Kingsholm Stadium. RWC2015 wasn’t the only global rugby tournament to take place in England, with Oxford Blues hosting the World University Rugby Cup (WURC). Teams from across the world, including England, Ireland, Japan and New Zealand, were joined by Krasnoyarsk’s Siberian Federal University, who beat Oxford University Greyhounds in the play-offs to end the tournament in 7th place.

Back home in Russia, the domestic season wrapped up with the 100th Krasnoyarsk derby deciding the fate of the 2015 RRPL title. Defending champions Enisei-STM carried a slender 3-point lead into the tie after a 21-18 win away from home in the first leg. However, the green and whites were able turn the tables and secure the league and cup double. Further down the Russian rugby pyramid, teams from a number of regional qualifiers descended on Zelenograd for the final of the Federal League, which was won by LRC Penza. RGUTiS-Podmoskovye claimed the Women’s Sevens Cup, while Moscow’s SSHOR 111 claimed the women’s sevens Federal League title. Elsewhere, Beach Rugby debuted at the All-Russia Games, and Get into Rugby held festivals in the Moscow and Kaliningrad regions.

October

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As RWC2015 closed in London, there was room for more Russian representation as Nadezhda Kudinova attended World Rugby’s Annual Awards as one of four nominees for HSBC World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year 2015, capping a stellar year for the Women’s Sevens captain. On the field, the Women’s European Championships 2015 (XVs) took place in Switzerland with Russia defeating the Czech Republic 41-15 in the third place play-off to repeat the bronze medal placing of 2014. Russia’s U19s were meanwhile edged out 22-20 by hosts Portugal in their European bronze medal match.

With the Russian Cup and Premier League already decided, a number of other club competitions concluded prior to the winter break. Kazan’s Dinamo-Energia won the Russian “Major” League, the second-level in the Russian club rugby pyramid, while Kuban wrapped up the 2015 overall Sevens title with victory in the final round in Kazan. The Krasnodar side won three of the four Series rounds. Second-placed VVA-Podmoskovye gained revenge with victory in the Russian Sevens Cup, however. Elsewhere, former Australian National Team Coach Nigel Ashley-Jones returned to Russia in October, where he held training seminars in Moscow and Krasnoyarsk.

November

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Domestic competition may have ended, but rugby activity only amplified for Russia in November, with the men’s national team kicking off the month at the Cup of Nations in Hong Kong. Debuting the new «Rising Bears» concept as part of a strategy to increase Russia’s elite player base, captain Vasily Artemyev led a young squad featuring several new caps and many players with single-figure international match experience to the title. The team ran in a total of 13 tries in victories over Portugal, Zimbabwe and hosts Hong Kong, conceding just one in a tournament which crowned the best team outside of RWC2015.

The Rising Bears concept was in part driven by necessity, as back home many senior National Team players were back home with club side Enisei-STM preparing to welcome Pro12 side Connacht to Siberia for Russia’s first-ever appearance in European club rugby. In a Challenge Cup game played in an astonishing -20°C, Enisei-STM trailed by just six points at half-time, but eventually succumbed 14-31 to the then Pro12 leaders. One week later, the 2014 Russian champions had a much tougher time away to Newcastle Falcons, going down 55-7 as the learning curve steepened.

December

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As the fifteens squad headed south to Sochi for a training camp, bringing in important foreign experience through former hooker Andy Kyriacou, the Sevens side returned to action in December in even warmer climes in Dubai, where Russia made another debut, this time as a core team on the HSBC Sevens World Series. Struggling to adjust to the step up to World Series level, Russia failed to win a game, receiving a good indicator of the improvements which will need to be made for the Olympic qualifier in 2016. A similar story looked set to unfold in Cape Town one week later, but signs of improvement saw the Bears advance to the Shield Final only to come up against a strong Samoa side.

It may have been a baptism of fire for the men, but Dubai proved to be a coming-of-age tournament for Russia’s women, not only scoring a first-ever Series win over New Zealand but at the same time delivering the All Blacks biggest-ever series defeat. Five consecutive wins, four of them against Rio 2016 qualifiers, took Russia to just a second series final, where an outstanding Australia ended dreams of a maiden Series tournament title.

In the club game, December 12 will be remembered as a date which will go down in Russian rugby history, as Enisei-STM showed outstanding defence and pride to record a 10-7 victory over former European Champions Brive in Sochi. While the French gained revenge one week later in Corrèze, Europe was made aware that should Kransy Yar qualify for next year’s Challenge Cup, Russian teams should not be taken lightly.

Throughout the month, Get into Rugby continued to spread its reach across Russia, travelling to Ivanovo and growing the game hundreds of kilometres north of the Arctic Circle in Murmansk. Thousands and thousands have been introduced to the game in Russia through the programme this year and we are looking forward to it making even greater strides in 2016. In addition to the programme’s success, it was announced at the end of the month that Tag Rugby will be introduced to the All-Russia Presidential Games, potentially huge news for growing Russia’s next generation of rugby players.

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Looking forward

Other things to look forward to this coming year include the chance for Olympic Sevens qualification for both men and women at their respective repecharge tournaments in Monaco and Dublin. Both sides will also be Core participants in the World Series throughout the year at venues crossing the globe. Meanwhile, the senior XVs team has the chance to test itself in the European Rugby Championship against RWC2015 participants Georgia and Romania and an expanded fixture list featuring a greater spread of opponents is currently being worked on, while there will be regular age-group competition under the aegis of Rugby Europe. In the club game, Krasny Yar will fight for the chance to repeat cross-river rivals Enisei-STM’s heroics on the European stage.

 The RUR intends to grow its rugby.ru/eng site and to continue to engage our fans through our social media platforms, where we encourage you to interact with us.

We would like to thank everyone who has cheered for us, worked with us and supported us throughout 2015 and from everyone at the Rugby Union of Russia, Happy New Year!