Wed, Mar 06, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Russia pump up to play in rugby World Cup

AFP, SOCHI, Russia

Russia lock Bogdan Fedotko, right, vies with Belgium’s Bertrand Billi, left, and Gillian Benoy, center, during their Rugby Europe Championship match in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 16.

Photo: AFP

Could Russia one day be a major player in world rugby? The national team have qualified for the World Cup for just the second time in their history and a new coach says that the country is full of potential.

“You’d be surprised how much promise there is in Russia,” said Lyn Jones, a former Welsh international who was brought in to oversee Russia in August last year.

When the 54-year-old ex-flanker began talks with the Russian Federation, there was little question of participation in the World Cup to be held in Japan this autumn.

However, after Spain, Romania and Belgium were disqualified for using ineligible players at the qualification stages, little-tried Russia found themselves thrust into the international spotlight.

Jones, who capped five times for Wales, said that the qualification was unexpected, but that Russia “can get to a standard which will be competitive and respectable.”

Since arriving in Russia, Jones has been traveling the country to meet local coaches and watch matches with a view to regenerating the national team. His task presents challenges. The league contains just eight clubs, who are spread across the world’s largest country.

The top two, Yenisey-STM and Krasny Yar, are in Krasnoyarsk, a Siberian city about 3,400km east of Moscow. And Russia’s harsh winter forces play to stop for a large part of the year.

Nonetheless, Jones remains satisfied with what he has seen.

“They don’t realize how good they are,” he said as he watched a training session in Sochi, a Black Sea town where Russia are preparing for the Europe International Championships.

“With belief and more understanding, then they can achieve such great things,” the coach said, adding that he has found three areas that need work.

“Fitness is a problem, some concentration and playing under pressure are three things we’re looking towards improving,” he said.

In Japan, where the World Cup is to run from Sept. 20 until Nov. 2, the goal is to win at least one match.

A near-impossible mission in the face of Ireland or Scotland, but Russia fancy their chances against hosts Japan, or Samoa. However, the task given to Jones extends well beyond the tournament.

“There’s a very real feeling that our team have not yet reached their limits, that we can improve them,” team official Sergei Markov said.

Russia have high-quality infrastructure in Sochi, where the men’s and women’s teams train in the same venues. However, schools that play rugby are thin on the ground and travel between them for matches is often impossible, because of the size of the country. As a result, many young people give up on training, or lack certain skills.

“We need a real system to prepare young people ... so that they have the necessary techniques and arrive in the national team already prepared,” Markov added.

Sitting on the roof of the stadium for a clear view of his players, Jones is optimistic about Russia’s chances in the autumn tournament and beyond.

“With a plan ... anything is possible,” he said.

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