Round-up news: February 20

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ENC1A

The first two weekends of Febraury saw a return to the European Nations Cup 1A (ENC1A) for the Russian Bears. Russia opened at home to Spain and two early tries from Enisei-STM winger Denis Simplikevich opened up a 14-6 half-time lead. Spain, however, refused to let the Bears put the game to bed and took the lead in the 75th through a penalty try for a tackle on a player without the ball. That lead was short-lived though as Russia answered back immediately through a superb try from debuting number 8 Anton Rudoy, which secured a 22-20 victory.

One week later, and Sochi welcomed Germany, as well as a record crowd of more than 5,000 fans. They were treated to a nine-try thriller, seven scored by the home team through Igor Galinovsky, Viktor Gresev, Mikhail Babaev, Alexei Shcherban, Yury Kushnarev (named among World Rugby’s tries of the week) and two from Rudoy, bringing his total to three tries in his first two games for the Russian national team. 

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Rudoy wasn’t the only back rower with reason to celebrate. Viktor Gresev won his 80th cap against Spain to break Andrey Kuzin’s national caps record. The 29-year-old St. Petersburg native has been a fixture in the national side for almost a decade since making his debut against Italy in Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2007 qualifying. He shone in the spotlight of RWC 11, picking up man-of-the-match awards against Sergio Parisse’s Italy and Australia.

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Following the first two matchdays of the second half of ENC1A 2014-6, Russia sit 18th in the World Rugby rankings and third in the combined ENC1A table. Above Russia, sit Georgia and Romania, with the Oaks up next in Iasi on February 27.

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Women’s 7s

It’s been a long few weeks in camp for Russia’s Women’s Sevens side, where an extended squad has been put through its paces by Head Coach Pavel Baranovsky and his assistant (and now second-most capper Russia player-ever) Andrey Kuzin. Baranovsky then named a somewhat experimental side for the second round of the Women’s Sevens World Series (WSWS), with a number of senior players stepping aside to manage game time with an eye on qualification for the Rio Olympics and to give fresh faces exposure to the elite level. As one Twitter-follower pointed out, what better place to audition for the Games, than in Brazil!

The most notable absentee from the squad is captain Nadezhda Kudinova, who was kept busy by picking up her Kuban Sportsperson of the Year award. Kudinova’s victory is a groundbreaking moment for the sport of rugby in Russia, as she won a popular vote to beat out stars from traditional regional powerhouses football and rugby.

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Men’s 7s

The men’s sevens side meanwhile moved on from Wellington to Sydney. There were reunions with RWC11 Liaison Officer Nick Chipizubov and former lock Adam Byrnes, and also with RWC11 opponent Quade Cooper, whose daily Russian language lessons in the teams’ hotel lift were relayed by the fly-half on social media.

Once the niceties off-the-field were over, the serious business of increasing the HSBC Sevens World Series (SWS) commenced. Russia’s started off against Kenya, the only Core Team we currently hold a winning record over. However, Kenya has been a fixture at the top of the Series for years, and their superior experience was enough for a 24-10. Big losses followed to Scotland and South Africa, before pushing Samoa all the way in the Bowl quarter-final, only to come up just short. A second successive shield appearance was secured with a 24-17 over Japan, but the final went the same way as Wellington with a single-score loss, this time to Wales.

After four legs of ten, Russia sit 16th in the standings on seven points, narrowly behind Portugal and Japan, who both have eight. The squad is now again in camp in Sochi preparing for the Las Vegas Sevens on March 4 where the team will face New Zealand, Kenya and Portugal.

Opponent

Result

 

Kenya

24-10 L

Pool

South Africa

40-0 L

Pool

Scotland

40-5 L

Pool

Samoa

28-24 L

Bowl QF

Japan

24-17 W

Shield SF

Wales

26-19 L

Shield final

Domestic

With Enisei’s European exploits now at an end until the next Qualifying Competition in April, Russia’s club teams’ next domestic action will start with the Russian Cup the same month. Russian Rugby Premier League this week announced a new format which will see a record 34 teams from 21 Russian regions compete for the trophy. Clubs from the country’s Federal League system will start in the early rounds before Premier League clubs enter in the round-of-8. The draw has been split into eastern and western halves in a bid to minimize the travel burden and enable more clubs to participate.