Rugby: Russia beat Romania to go top of table

Russian Rugby Scrum HalfRussia’s Rugby Union team have climbed back to the summit of the European Nations Cup table, after a hard fought 12-8 victory over Romania.

The win, secured only with two last-gasp penalties, sets up an thrilling winner takes all fight for the title next month, as Russia host old rivals Georgia.

Romania, traditionally a European rugby powerhouse, were never going to be an easy opponent. Lying third in the table, they trailed Russia and Georgia by just one point at the beginning of the match.

But, in front of 3,000 screaming fans at Krasnodar’s Stadium Junost, Russia kept their nerve and came from behind to edge past a determined and well drilled Romanian team.

Last gasp victory

Georgia Russia Rugby Line-outAfter taking almost the entire game to grind out a 6-3 lead, Russia looked well placed to run down the clock and secure victory. But the Romanian players clearly hadn’t read the script.

With just 12 minutes left to play, a magnificent drive by Romania’s forwards put replacement Valentin Ursache in position to score from a maul. The conversion was missed but the try was enough to take Romania into a narrow 8-6 lead.

Suddenly finding themselves behind, and with the game almost over, the Russians finally kicked into high gear. Romania managed to resist Russia’s relentless attacking play for 8 more minutes, but two penalties in the last four minutes from Yuriy Kushnarev, Russia’s fly-half, gave Russia a last gasp victory.

Russia vs Georgia – winner takes all title fight

Russia Top Rugby TableRussia now find themselves top of the European Nations Cup table, three points clear of old rivals Georgia.

Georgia have a game in hand and if, as expected, they beat Spain, the Lelos will go back to the top of the table on points difference to set up a thrilling climax to the European Nations Cup tournament on 12 April.

Russia, who lost 31-13 to Georgia in Tblisi last year will be the slight underdogs. Although Russia have risen to 16th in the world rankings – their highest ever – they are still two places behind the experienced Georgians. And Georgia, as some regular commenters will recall, came within a whisker of dumping Ireland out of this summer’s Rugby World Cup.

But with three consecutive wins under their belt, and thousands of home fans behind them, I wouldn’t bet against the Russian Bears winning their first major title.

Check back in a few weeks for a full match report…

(Image Credit: Russian Rugby Union).

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14 Responses

  1. GER O'BRIEN says:

    ”And Georgia, as some regular commenters will recall, came within a whisker of dumping Ireland out of this summer’s Rugby World Cup.”

    No shit Andy:-) I do recall, groan! Seriously though this is an enormous result for the Russians -Romania were in the World Cup themselves, and were knocking on the 6 nations door years ago with Italy, although have gone downhill since the early 1990s. I know most of the Russian team are from Krasnoyarsk, the city my missus is from, and though played only among a small number, they take it deadly serious there. A few years ago Ireland had to go there for a World Cup qualifier and it took us long enough to beat them, 33-0 in the end. And of course the whole team got pissed afterwards in an Irish pub there (actually that goes without saying really) Where is the match with Georgia actually going to be? Krasnodar or Krasnoyarsk? In any event, Vperyod, Rossiya!:-)

  2. It’s fascinating to see Russia involved in such sports as rugby and baseball. All things considered, those two sports seem to have done a pretty good job at promoting themselves to some countries where rugby and baseball haven’t had a solid following.

    Without checking myself, I’m curious to know if the Russian team is comprised of non-Russian born players? I recall Russian rugby having problems getting some players approved in relation to this question.

    Also, as a non-rugby expert (while being intrigued with the sport, which is minus all the protective gear evident in American football), aren’t their two kinds of fairly major international rugby orgs., which essentially act separate from each other? If correctly recall: Russia was doing well in one of the two.

  3. Andy says:

    Ger – I think the match is scheduled to be played in the same Krasnodar stadium. But, I think it only has a capacity of 3,000. Given the high profile of the game against Georgia, I wonder if they’ll consider moving it to a larger stadium?

    Mike – as far as I know, all of the Russian team are Russian born. Here’s the squad for this weekend’s match, as reported by Rugby365:

    First team: 15 Igor Kluchnikov, 14 Andrey Kuzin (captain), 13 Igor Galinovskiy, 12 Sergey Trishin, 11 Alexandr Gvozdovskiy, 10 Yuriy Kushnarev, 9 Alexandr Shakirov, 8 Andrey Garbuzov, 7 Andrey Ostrikov, 6 Kirill Kushnarev, 5 Kirill Kulemin, 4 Valery Fedchenko, 3 Ivan Prishepenko, 2 Vladislav Korshunov, 1 Alexandr Khrokin
    Replacements: 16 Vladimir Marchenko, 17 Vladimir Botvinikov, 18 Ivan Povesma, 19 Evgeny Matveev, 20 Alexandr Yanushkin, 21 Victor Motorin, 22 Mikhail Babaev,

    As for two types of rugby – yes, you’re correct.

    Rugby Union and Rugby League. This was a game of Rugby Union.

    Union is considerably more popular, both globally and in Russia. Although, oddly, Russia have a marginally higher ranking in Rugby League (13th in the World) than in Union (16th in the world).

    Wikipedia has a good piece on the basic differences between the two rugby codes:

    The main differences between the two games, besides league having teams of 13 players and union of 15, involve the tackle and its aftermath:

    * Union players contest possession following the tackle: depending on the situation, either a ruck or a maul occurs. League players may not contest possession after making a tackle: play is continued with a play-the-ball (AKA: “Scratch”)

    * In league, if the team in possession fails to score before a “set of six” tackles, it surrenders possession. Union has no six-tackle rule; a team can keep the ball for an unlimited number of tackles before scoring as long as it maintains possession.

  4. Andy says:

    Oh, by the way – if you want to watch the Russian Rugby Sevens team in action, they’re taking part in the Hong Kong Sevens tournament on 28-30 March.

    Should be on tv somewhere in the States.

    (Sevens, for the uninitiated, is another form of Rugby Union – the same rules are followed but, because there are only 7 players in each team instead of the usual 15, it’s a very fast flowing and high scoring game).

  5. Thanks much for the info. Andy. There’re many fine sports out there to watch, thereby making it quite difficult to closely follow them all.

    On Russian related sports news, the NHL season is seeing some great individual statistical performances from top Russian players. A number of them are either young, or at the peak of their career. They play with great natural ability.

    If they don’t win gold at the Vancouver Olympics, Russia’s mens’ ice hockey team is in a good position to be the most exciting of squads.

    In other mens’ team sports, Russia appears among the best in basketball, volleyball and water polo. All of them great games IMO. Offhand, I’m not sure how Russia’s mens’ team handball squad has been doing. Not to be overlooked are the Russian ladies in those sports.

  6. Out of curiosity, how well a following does Aussie Rules Footbal (if I’ve the name right) have in the UK?

    Does anyone know of the popularity competition wise (between those two sports) in Australia?

    If I’m not mistaken, rugby is the more popular of the two sports in New Zealand. The Kiwis haver had some top rated rugby teams.

  7. GER O'BRIEN says:

    ”Out of curiosity, how well a following does Aussie Rules Footbal (if I’ve the name right) have in the UK?”

    You do have the name right Mike, but it isnt popular in the UK, though highlights are watched in Ireland, cos its related to one of our sports here, Gaelic Football. Funny enough until recently Aussia Rules was only popular in some parts of Australia, in particular Victoria (Melbourne) until a huge marketing drive put it nationwide. I think its probably watched in Australia as much as rugby union, but rugby union is played by a lot more people. But soccer is making the biggest inroads there now, after the exploits of their mediocre band of mercenaries at the last World Cup under Gus Hiddink (now Russia’s coach). The immigrant groups there from Greece and Croatia gave soccer its foothold, and all the kids of these ethnic groups play soccer.

    ”If I’m not mistaken, rugby is the more popular of the two sports in New Zealand. The Kiwis haver had some top rated rugby teams.”

    New Zealand is just rugby mad. I spent a year there and they never stop talking about it, and when the team makes their usual World Cup exit, its a national disaster. One morning I went to a friend’s farm about 40 miles from Wellington and on the way passed kids training. There must have been twenty fields full of kids playing rugby matches. I thought to myself ”how are we ever going to beat this crowd in the future”?
    Actually Russia won a trophy at last years HK 7s, not the big prize but one of the smaller ones. Looking at the build of many Russian men, they look like natural 2nd row forwards. Good luck to Russia against Romania, it’d be great for them to win a trophy and maybe earn the right to get a few test matches against 6 Nations teams.

    ”If they don’t win gold at the Vancouver Olympics, Russia’s mens’ ice hockey team is in a good position to be the most exciting of squads.”

    Ice hockey is just brilliant I agree. I dunno a thing about it but its great to watch. I was in Moscow when they lost controversially to the USA at Salt Lake City, watching in a packed niteclub. I can tell you what happened did not go down well with the locals. I remember the disconsolate look on the face of Sergei Feodorov(?)(the captain?) when the match ended, shaking his head in anger and disbelief, a real defiant hero. Seems to me they are due a gold medal soon. At any rate everyone got drunk as a skunk (by no means a rarity in Moscow) and the party went on.

  8. Andy says:

    I couldn’t agree more – it would be great to see Russia get a test match or two. Even the odd full-scale match against someone like Fiji, Canada or the US would do wonders for the team’s development.

    (Actually, I’d love to see Fiji take on Russia one day on a snow-covered Siberian pitch… 🙂 )

    By the way, didn’t Aussie Rules develop as a way to use cricket grounds during the winter off-season?

    I seem to recall that was one of the arguments put forward when they tried to popularise the game in England a decade or so back.

  9. GER O'BRIEN says:

    ”By the way, didn’t Aussie Rules develop as a way to use cricket grounds during the winter off-season? ”

    That is true, and they wanted to use a round ball like Gaelic football but didnt have any so used rugby balls instead. Its a mad game though!

    ”Actually, I’d love to see Fiji take on Russia one day on a snow-covered Siberian pitch… )”
    Fiji would lose in Krasnoyarsk I think! Islanders are a bit lazy sometimes and they hate the cold! Great fun though. And enormous people -Tongans are the biggest on earth. You’d see them fighting in New Zealand and they’d need five or six cops just to hold them down.

  10. Several years ago, one of the Kiwi rugby stars (an indigenous New Zealander) was said to be under consideration for a National Football League tryout.

    Go to hand it to those Commonwealth developed sports where there isn’t much protective equipment. Too much equipment might not be such a good idea. There have been some serious head injuries in American football that are related to an over reliance on the helmut as protection.

    Concerning the mentioned 2002 US-Russia game, the Russians were asleep for 2/3 of the game. You don’t typically win when playing like that. Questionable calls happen. The bottom line is that the Russians should’ve played a more complete game in that contest.

    Russia did have legitimate gripes with the awarding of a double gold in pairs figure skating. Given that precedent, it wasn’t unrealistic for Irina Slutskaya to be awarded a double gold as well. The figure skating situation at SLC was indicative of partisan grounds influencing things in an overly subjective manner.

    Offhand, I don’t think that Sergei Fedorov was captain of that ’02 team. I think it might’ve been either Pavel Bure or Alexi Yashin. In his prime, Fedorov was a great player. He could do it all. Skate, shoot and play defense. He should’ve had a much better career. Now in his late thirties, he plays with Alexander Ovechkin in Washington. Some say that Fedorov’s relationship with Anna Kournikova had a negative effect on his play.

    What made Wayne Gretzky a great player is that he wasn’t big, fast or possessing of a hard shot. He had a knack of knowing to be in the right place at the right time. A classic example of instinct and heart excelling over raw talent. His number 99 is officially retired throughout the ice hockey world.

    Now a coach and owner of the Phoenix Coyotes, Gretzky’s current team has unis patterned along the lines of the Soviet national teams. Gretzky was a respectful admirer of the ice hockey that was played in the USSR. The sport has since become more hybrid. North Americans mixing finesse with brawn and Europeans exhibiting great skills with an increased penchant for physical play.

  11. GER O'BRIEN says:

    In fairness if you say Feodorov wasnt captain I believe you, I havent a clue. I just remember his face on the big screen afterward. You’re right about the game itself too – unless I’m mistaken Russia were 3-0 behind then came back to 3-2 but had a goal disallowed. What irked Russians the most though was that they believed in Moscow that the match was part of a general conspiracy against Russian at those Games. Actually, first of all, I cant overstate how serious the Winter Olympics are to Russians -the whole place was gone mad during the tournament, flags and poster ads everywhere, saturation coverage on tv – the football World Cup a few months later got scant coverage in comparison (mind you the team Russia sent there were bad, and everyone knew it). Anyway, between the farcical skating medals fiasco and a number of Russians caught for doping, the feeling in Moscow was that the US was out to get the Russians. More than once the question was put to me ”why do Americans hate Russia”? or more simply ”why are they doing this to us”? As if I had a clue. But doping apart, it seems the Russians were hard done by more than once at that tournament. But as you say questionable calls do happen and we all have to live with them no matter which sport we follow.

    Am glad to hear that Feodorov is still playing, and, to give him credit, I think Anna Kournikova would put most men off their stroke.

  12. Russian sports fans love the Olympics. Other sports fans do as well. My impression is that with Russians, it might be a bit greater in many instances (vis-a-vis sports fans in a number of other countries).

    Historically, Soviet as well as post-Soviet Russia has performed better at the summer games.

    This is also true of the non-Russian former Soviet republics. The top sporting countries among them being Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and the Baltics (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia).

    Of recent note, Russian prowess at the winter games has been in decline. Being rewarded the 2014 Winter Olympics can help serve to boost Russia’s performance.

    The upcoming winter games in Vacouver will for the first time feature the games being played on a shorter NHL surface. Though in Canada, the 1988 Calgary games were played on a wider international ice surface which favors the European finesse game. The narrower surface benefits those favoring a more physical game. The comparatively limited skating space and greater closeness of the boards favors body checking. When featuring the best players, the wider surface makes for more exciting play. It doesn’t eliminate body checking, while encouraging creative pass plays, involving skating and stick handling skills.

    This is supposedly the last Winter Olympics featuring NHL players. I hope not. Since the NHL’s involvement in 1998, every Olympic ice hockey tournament has been excellent.

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