Rugby union in Russia

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Rugby union in Russia
Russia georgia scrum.jpg
Russia U19 (in white) playing Georgia U19 in 2009.
Governing body Rugby Union of Russia
National team(s) Russia
First played1884, Moscow
Registered players21,670 [1]
National competitions
Club competitions

Rugby union in Russia is a moderately popular sport. Russia is ranked 20th worldwide by the World Rugby, [2] having over three hundred clubs and close to 22,000 players nationally. [3] Russian Rugby Championship is the top-level professional competition held in Russia. Krasnoyarsk, in the middle of Siberia, is traditionally the heartland of Russian rugby. [4] [5]


Governing body

The Rugby Union of Russia is the governing body for rugby union in Russia. It was founded in 1936 originally as the Rugby Union of the Soviet Union, and a specifically Russian body was set up in 1966. The Rugby Union of Russia became affiliated to the International Rugby Board in 1990. [6]


Medieval times

Since the early medieval times Russians played a ballgame, in many ways similar to rugby. In Russian it has been called "Kila" (kee-LAH,) the earliest written accounts of which go back to the 12th Century Novgorod Republic. It existed in a number of variations, most of which differ from rugby in that they provide more diverse gameplay tactics (the play was more tough, anyone on the field could force and be forced upon physically in diverse manner, ball could be passed in any direction.) Kila ball is a pumpkin-shaped ball, three to four times heavier than a standard rugby ball, usually weighing at around 1,300–1,500 g (2.9–3.3 lb). As the game was strongly associated with pre-Christian pagan traditions, the Russian Orthodox Church didn't tolerate it. By the 19th Century the sport declined and died-out, especially after the English-type soccer was adopted and spread throughout the late Russian Empire.

Pre-Revolutionary Russia

Rugby football in the Russian Empire pre-dated the Russian Revolution by a number of years, but it was only played sporadically. It appears to have been the first (non-indigenous) football code to be played in Russia, around a decade before the introduction of association football. [7] Mr Hopper, a Scotsman, who worked in Moscow arranged a match in the 1880s; the first soccer match was in 1892. [7] In 1886, however, the Russian police clamped down on rugby because they considered it "brutal, and liable to incite demonstrations and riots" [7] Condemnation by the tsar's police probably deterred many people from playing, and records of rugby over the next thirty years are sparse. Some rugby union was still being played in 1908, however the first "official" match took place in Moscow in 1923.

Soviet period

Because of the Russian Revolution, some Soviet/Russian players emigrated and/or ended up playing for foreign sides, a notable example being Prince Alexander Obolensky (Александр Сергеевич Оболенский) who played for Oxford and England in the 1930s - he was the scorer of 2 tries on his England debut in their win over New Zealand in January 1936. His noble birth precluded him from playing in his home country and his family had fled the country when he was only a year old.

In 1934 the Moscow Championship was started, and in 1936 the first Soviet Championship took place.

The game was more or less banned for a number of years in the Soviet Union because of an incident in a final in Moscow, when supporters of Llanelli and a Bucharest team were involved in a brawl. [6]

According to popular myth, in 1949 rugby union was forbidden in the USSR during the "fight against the cosmopolitanism". The competitions were resumed in 1957, and the Soviet Championship in 1966. In 1975 the Soviet national team played their first match. [8]

Although there was the Soviet Cup and the Soviet Championship, rugby never became a major sport in the USSR. Union was the bigger of the two codes though - rugby league only really took off in the former Soviet Union after the collapse of Communism.

Post-Soviet Russia

When the Soviet Union broke up, there were two main consequences - firstly the loss of a much larger pool of players and fans, and secondly, the defection of many players to rugby league, which had previously been frowned on by the Soviet authorities. The two main areas for Russian rugby were to be Moscow and Siberia, and to a lesser extent, Leningrad/St Petersburg. [6]

The most notable Russian player perhaps is Igor Mironov who played for the Barbarians several times during the 1980s. [6] Vasily Artemyev played for Northampton Saints in the English Premiership.

Russian rugby terminology

Russian language terminology for Rugby union positions

1 - форвард первой линии открытой стороны (Left Prop or Loosehead Prop)2 - отыгрывающий (хукер) (Hooker)3 - форвард первой линии закрытой стороны (Right Prop or Tighthead Prop)
4 - форвард второй линии (2nd Row or Lock)5 - Форвард второй линии (2nd Row or Lock)
6 - Левый крыльевой (Blindside Flanker)8 - Стягивающий (восьмерка)(Number 8)7 - Правый крыльевой (Openside Flanker)
9 - Полузащитник схватки (девятка)(Halfback or Scrum-half)
10 - Блуждающий полузащитник (десятка)(First Five-eight or Fly-half)
12 - Центральный трёхчетвертной (Second Five-eight or Inside Centre)
13 - Центральный трёхчетвертной (Center or Outside Centre)
11 - Левый крайний трёхчетвертной (Left Wing)14 - Правый крайний трёхчетвертной (четырнадцатый)(Right Wing)
15 - Защитник (замок)(Fullback)


In 1978, Russia set the record for one of the coldest matches ever to be played, when Krasnoyarsk played Polyechika Alma at -23' C. Because Krasnoyarsk had travelled over 2,000 km to be there, the game was not called off. Instead, players resorted to wearing balaclavas, gloves, and several pairs of tracksuits to combat the cold. [9] Nonetheless, the extreme climate of Russia remains a problem, with winter sometimes being a split season, or the game of snow rugby being played.


Although association football is the most popular spectator sport in Russia, rugby has been growing in terms of player base, spectator interest and media coverage in recent years. Rugby's rise into mainstream media happened a few years ago when the Heineken Cup, a club tournament in Europe, was given television coverage on the 7TV sports channel. 7TV also broadcast the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Subsequently, Russia's domestic championship, the Professional Rugby League, has earned weekly coverage on the RTR-Sport channel (a number of countries also receive this channel, such as Ukraine), though the games are not shown live. In addition to television coverage, rugby now features in mainstream news publications. In early 2006, RTR-Sport purchased the rights to cover the 2007 Rugby World Cup. In 2007 Moscow made an unsuccessful bid to host the 2009 Rugby World Cup Sevens. It was announced in February 2009 that the Rugby Union of Russia would again bid to host the Rugby World Cup Sevens, in 2013. After two other bidders (Brazil and Germany) withdrew, leaving Russia the only country with an active bid, Russia was officially named as host in May 2010. [10] Russia also hosted the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy, the IRB's second-tier international competition for under-20 men's teams, in 2010.


The main club competition in Russia is the Professional Rugby League, a fully professional competition. The competing clubs are VVA Saracens from Monino in Moscow Oblast and Slava from Moscow, Enisei-STM and Krasny Yar both from Krasnoyarsk, RC Penza, RC Novokuznetsk, and Universitet from Chita Oblast. There also Top League and First League below the Professional Rugby League possessing a mixture of professional, semi-professional and amateur teams.

2013 Professional League teams

VVA Saracens Monino Gagarin Air Force Academy stadium 5000
Yenisey-STM Krasnoyarsk Avangard Stadium 5000
Krasny Yar Krasnoyarsk Krasny Yar Stadium 3200
Slava Moscow Moscow Slava Stadium 2000
Spartak GM Moscow Moscow Rugby Academy Stadium ~1000
Fili Moscow Moscow Fili Stadium 2000
RC Novokuznetsk Novokuznetsk Rugby Stadium ~1000
Strela-Agro Kazan Kazan Tulpar Arena 3000
RC Bulava Taganrog Raduga Stadium ~1000
RC Kuban Krasnodar Trud Stadium ~1000

2013 Top League Teams

Imperia Penza Penza
Narva Zastava St Petersburg
Dynamo-Energy Kazan
RC Zelenograd Zelenograd
VVA Academy Monino
Enisey-STM Krasnoyarsk Krasnoyarsk
Strela-Agro Kazan Kazan
Maryino Moscow
Zelenograd Moscow Moscow
Mai Yuzhny Tushino Moscow Moscow
Varyag Novgorod Novgorod

Locations of Top 2 Tier Teams 2013

National champions

1992 Krasny Yar 2002 Yenisey-STM 2012 Yenisey-STM
1993 VVA-Podmoskovye 2003 VVA-Podmoskovye 2013 Krasny Yar
1994 Krasny Yar 2004 VVA-Podmoskovye
1995 Krasny Yar 2005 Yenisey-STM
1996 Krasny Yar 2006 VVA-Podmoskovye
1997 Krasny Yar 2007 VVA-Podmoskovye
1998 Krasny Yar 2008 VVA-Podmoskovye
1999 Yenisey-STM 2009 VVA-Podmoskovye
2000 Krasny Yar 2010 VVA-Podmoskovye
2001 Krasny Yar 2011 Yenisey-STM


The Six Nations B, also known as the European Nations Cup (ENC) is similar to the Six Nations Championship. Russia finished third in the 2001 and 2001–02 competitions and second in the 2007–08 and 2008–10 competitions. Their second-place finish in 2008–10 also secured Russia's first appearance in the Rugby World Cup, which took place in 2011 in New Zealand. The Nations Cup was introduced by the IRB in 2006, in which Russia and Portugal along with Argentina A and Italy A competed in Portugal.

Super Powers Cup

The Super Cup was an annual international rugby union competition contested by national teams from Canada, Japan, Romania and the United States. It was previously known as the Super Powers Cup.

The Super Powers Cup was first launched in 2003. It was planned that China, Japan, Russia and the United States would play each other once. However, because of the SARS outbreak the Chinese team were forced to withdraw. Russia won the inaugural competition, defeating the USA 30-21 in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. [11] For the 2004 competition Canada replaced China.

European Challenge Cup

In 2015 Russian club Yenisey-STM was included for the 2015-16 season of the European Challenge Cup. The first fixture was against Irish club Connacht at their home stadium. During the match temperatures got close to -20°c and the field was covered in ice. Yenisey-STM lost 14-31 against Connacht.

National team

Russia playing Georgia Georgia versus Russia at rugby.jpg
Russia playing Georgia

Russia previously played as part of the USSR, and in the early 1990s, as a combined CIS team. Since 1992 however, they have been playing as Russia. The team qualified for its first Rugby World Cup by tying Romania 21-21.

Russia competes regularly in the European Nations Cup, and more recently, in the Nations Cup.

Russia succeeded in qualifying for the 2011 Rugby World Cup and has qualified for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

See also

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  11. : Russia take Super Powers Cup