Round-up news: January 21

Саулите и Сипликевич

ER Challenge Cup

The big news of 2016 so far has been Enisei-STM’s sensational victory over former English Premiership champions Newcastle Falcons in Sochi. The 24-7 win saw the Siberians narrowly miss out on a try bonus, but also featured fine attacking and defending play as the side acclimatizes to rugby at this level. Coming on the back of a December win over former European Champions Brive, Enisei’s victory was only the second by a club from outside the Six Nations over an English side in tournament history, the first coming nearly 20 years ago in 1996. It is only the fourth time a non-6 Nations side has recorded two wins in one season, but only the second time against two old 5 Nations sides and the first time a non-6 Nations club has beaten clubs from England and France in the same year.

The victory was warmly welcomed by social media, but it also made the mainstream media in Russia. The national state sport channel Match TV devoted six minutes to the victory in its news program, unprecedented exposure at such a level, and the story made the pages of free paper Metro. These small but important steps are vital to making the sport of rugby more visible in what is an Olympic year.

Meanwhile, crosstown rivals Krasny Yar, who wrestled the title away from Enisei in 2015, will in April have the chance to replace their fierce rivals in next year’s edition of the Challenge Cup when they face off against a Qualifying Competition group winner in a two-leg fixture. There’s one game still to play in that tournament, and the green and whites know their opponents will be one of Romania’s Timisoara Saracens, Germany’s Heidelberg or Italy’s Rovigo. Preparations for those games are continuing through the Russian off-season, even as daytime temperatures struggle to climb above -30C in Krasnoyarsk.

A final Russian is also playing Challenge Cup rugby this season, and it took Bears lock Andrei Ostrikov just one minute to claim the opening try in Sale Sharks’ Pool 2 win over Pau in France.

 HKRFU Cup of Nations - Hong Kong vs Russia

European Nations Cup

Russian head coach Alexander Pervukhin has named a 26-man squad for Russia’s 2016 European Nations Cup campaign. Russia’s 2016 fixture list kicks off with home game against Spain and Germany followed by a trip to Iasi to face Romania, Georgia at home and wrapping up with Portugal away. The Bears currently sit fourth in the combined 2015-6 table on 13, but can jump Spain with an opening win.

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Sevens

After a breakthrough year which saw her nominated for World Rugby’s HSBC Women’s Sevens Player of the Year Award, Russian captain Nadezhda Kudinova has racked up yet another accolade, winning the popular vote in an online poll to determine the Kuban (Krasnodar) region’s athlete of 2015. Kudinova polled more than 32% of vote to beat out nine other sportsmen and women. The poll is extremely positive as not only have Kudinova’s talents been recognized in a public vote, she also defeated athletes from far more established regional sports including football and wrestling.

Kudinova is now with her colleagues in Novogorsk outside Moscow as an extended squad prepares for the second leg of the Women’s World Series in Sao Paolo in February, while the men’s side are in Portugal in camp preparing for their upcoming legs in Wellington and Sydney.

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Regional rugby

Following Get into Rugby’s (GiR) historic trip north of the Arctic, Murmansk Rugby Union announced teams from the city, the Murmansk region, St. Petersburg and Karelia would all be taking part in an inaugural Arctic rugby tournament. Meanwhile, despite the Siberian temperatures, the Federal League is set to get underway with the Kransoyarsk region set to kick off its division. Last year saw teams from across Russia compete to represent their areas in a grand final tournament in Zelenograd, with Penza being crowned champions. Elsewhere in Siberia, the Kemerovo region became the latest to hold a World Rugby coaching seminar.

 

And finally…

In a year already full of Russian mainstream media coverage, rugby found another unlikely window into the nation’s homes when the Russia-24 national news TV channel revealed that Timur the goat and Amur the Siberian tiger – two animals at Russia’s Far Eastern Nature Park who befriended each other when Timur was delivered to be Amur’s dinner – begin every day with a game of rugby! The two compete to see who can keep the ball in their mouths as they ruck and scrum around their enclosure. The pair are famous across Russia and through their games will, in their own way, be bringing the camaraderie of rugby to a new audience.