|Union||Federation of USSR Rugby Union Players|
(4 August 1974)
(30 October 1976)
(7 September 1991)
The USSR national rugby union team was a sporting side that represented the Soviet Union in rugby union until the early 1990s.
Although tournaments such as the Soviet Cup and the Soviet Championship existed, rugby never became a major sport in the USSR. Rugby union was the more popular of the two rugby codes, however, as rugby league only began being played following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Rugby football was played in the Russian Empire as early as 1884; however, the first official match, played in Moscow, did not take place until 1923. 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 1935 the Moscow Championship was initiated, followed by the first Soviet Championship which took place in 1936.
In 1949, rugby union was forbidden throughout the USSR during the "fight against cosmopolitanism". Competition was resumed in 1957, and the Soviet Championship recommenced in 1966. In 1975, the Soviet national team played their first ever match.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet team began to improve their performances, often coming second to France, or third to Romania in the FIRA tournament. The team were never given the opportunity to play a tier 1 nation where test caps were awarded.
The organisers of the 1987 Rugby World Cup had intended to invite the USSR as one of the participants. However, before the invitation could be made, the USSR refused to take part on political grounds, allegedly due to the continued IRB membership of South Africa. The first tournament was by invitation rather than qualification, and despite successes against teams such as Italy and Romania in the years leading up to the inaugural Cup, the USSR did not enter.
The Soviet team did not attempt to qualify for the 1991 Rugby World Cup finals. They played their last game against Spain in the FIRA tournament in November 1991, shortly before the country's own dissolution. The USSR's successor was briefly the Commonwealth of Independent States, after which the former constituent states formed their own national teams.
|Year||Winner||Second place||Third place|
In 1991, in preparation for the second Rugby World Cup in Britain, France and Ireland, New Zealand hosted short tours by Western Samoa, Fiji, Romania and the USSR. There were no matches of Test status played by New Zealand against the tourists, but a side designated "A New Zealand XV" met both the Romanian and Soviet sides.
The USSR tour party comprised 26 players and was led from the front-row by Sergei Molchenov. They won four and lost four of the eight matches played:
The tours gave the New Zealand selectors a chance to gauge the form of players likely to be on the periphery of selection for the World Cup. The teams in the representative match you refer to were as follows:
June 16, 1991 at Rugby Park, Hamilton New Zealand XV 56 (8G 2T) – USSR 6 (1PG 1DG) New Zealand XV: E J Crossan; E Clarke, W K Maunsell, T D L Tagaloa; A F McCormick, J P Preston; J A Hewett; O M Brown, N J Hewitt, M R Allen, R M Brooke, D W Mayhew, M P Carter, W T Shelford (captain), W R Gordon
Tries: McCormick (2), Crossan (2), Maunsell (2), Tagaloa (2), Shelford, Carter Conversions: Crossan (8)
USSR : V Voropaev; A Zakarliuk, I Kuperman, A Kovalenko, I Mironov; S Boldakov, A Bychkov; E Kabylkin, S Molchenov (captain), R Bikbov, S Sergeev, E Ganiakhin, V Negodin, A Ogryzkov, A Tikhonov Replacements used: Y Nikolaev, V Zykov
Penalty Goal: Boldakov Dropped Goal: Boldakov
Referee: Mr D J Bishop
In September, the USSR were guests of the RFU and played the Combined London Old Boys at Croxley Green (OMTs' ground) before meeting an England XV in a World Cup warm-up game at Twickenham where they lost 53–0 to a full-strength side led by Will Carling.
Their last representative matches as a united Soviet side were during the 1991–92 season. A team labelled "CIS" fulfilled their remaining FIRA Championship fixtures against Italy, Spain, Romania and France A.
Russia has competed as a separate entity at the international level since 1992.
200 Soviet players became Masters of Sport. Three notable ones are:
The rugby teams of the USSR's successor states have had varying success.
Initially, the former USSR competed under the Commonwealth of Independent States banner, but this itself terminated in 1992. It had played four matches.
The most successful "successor" rugby team has been Georgia, which competed in the 2003 Rugby World Cup, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019. They had a respectable performance against Ireland and defeated Namibia twice in 2007 and 2015, defeated Tonga 17-10 in 2015. The Rugby World Cup, coincidentally, got going at around the point that the Soviet Union was disintegrating – no other ex-Soviet team other than Georgia had ever qualified until 2011 when Russia qualified, and the early World Cups were also smaller tournaments. The Georgia Rugby Union was founded in 1964, but did not compete as a national team during the Soviet Era.
As of 3 March 2008, however, Russia's form had improved greatly, being placed at 17th position in the world rankings, ahead of Portugal, the USA, Japan, and coming one point behind Romania.
The following successor teams are in the European Nations Cup:
The Georgia national rugby union team, nicknamed The Lelos, represents Georgia in men's international rugby union. The team is administered by the Georgian Rugby Union and takes part in the annual Rugby Europe Championship and the Rugby World Cup, which takes place every four years.
The Romania national rugby union team represents Romania in men's international rugby union competitions, nicknamed The Oaks (Stejarii), is long considered one of the stronger European teams outside the Six Nations. They have participated in all but one Rugby World Cup and currently compete in the first division of the European Nations Cup, which they won most recently in 2017. Rugby union in Romania is administered by the Romanian Rugby Federation. The team plays in yellow and blue strips.
Wayne Thomas "Buck" Shelford is a former New Zealand rugby union footballer and coach who represented and captained New Zealand in the late 1980s. He is also credited with revitalising the performance of the All Blacks' traditional "Ka Mate" haka.
The Rugby Europe International Championships is the European Championship for tier 2 and tier 3 rugby union nations.
The Spain national rugby union team represents Spain in men's international rugby union competitions, nicknamed Los Leones, is administered by the Spanish Rugby Federation. The team annually takes part in the European Nations Cup, the highest European rugby championship outside the Six Nations. The national side is ranked 16th in the world.
The Portugal national rugby union team is rated as a performance team in the World Rugby four-band classification system, the second highest. Portugal had their first match in 1935 and now compete in the European Nations Cup and occasionally in the IRB Nations Cup. The team as well as all rugby union in Portugal is administered by the Federação Portuguesa de Rugby. Portugal qualified for their first Rugby World Cup in 2007 where they were grouped in Pool C along with New Zealand, Italy, Romania and Scotland. They are nicknamed Os Lobos, Portuguese for "The Wolves".
The Russia national rugby union team represents Russia in men's international rugby union international competitions, nicknamed the Bears, is administered by the Rugby Union of Russia (RUR). The RUR is considered the official successor union of the Soviet Union by World Rugby and the combined CIS team which played in the early 1990s. Since 1992, the team has played as Russia. Its first test match as Russia was against the Barbarians in Moscow in June 1992 and the country's first test against an official Test nation was against Belgium later that same year.
The Germany national rugby union team represents Germany in men's international competitions. currently plays at the second level of European rugby but is yet to qualify for the Rugby World Cup. The national team first played in 1927, with rugby union in Germany being administered by the German Rugby Federation.
Rugby union in Georgia is a popular team sport. Rugby union is considered one of the most popular sports in Georgia.
The Poland national rugby union team represents Poland in men's international rugby union competitions. Nicknamed The White and Reds (Biało-czerwoni), is considered one of the stronger tier 3 teams in European rugby and currently compete in the second division of the Rugby Europe International Championships in the Rugby Europe Trophy, a competition which is just below the Rugby Europe Championship where the top 6 countries in Europe compete. They are yet to participate in any Rugby World Cup and often play in white with red shorts as well as in red with white shorts.
Rugby union is a moderately popular team sport played in Romania with a tradition of more than 100 years. The Romanian men's national team are currently 19th in the World Rugby Rankings as of 31 October 2020.
RugbyFest 1990 was a two-week festival of women's rugby, held in Christchurch, New Zealand between 19 August and 1 September 1990. The event has been inflated sometimes to the status of a mini-world cup. In reality with only four teams taking part, and lacking major nations such as France, England and Canada, it was never that. However it was still a significant step forward – the first ever world-wide multi-regional women's rugby tournament. Held only eight years after the first women's international it was a sign of how much the game had already expanded.
Rugby union in Armenia is a growing sport. The national team is currently unranked in the world rankings, which records only the top ninety-six countries. The governing body for Armenia is the Rugby Federation of Armenia.
France A, also known as France XV and France B in the past, was the former name of the second national rugby union team of France behind the French national side.
The most successful teams in women's international rugby union have been England, France, and New Zealand.
Rugby union in Poland is a minor, but growing sport and currently, the Polish men`s national team are ranked 34th in the world as of 31 October 2020.
Rugby union in the Soviet Union was a moderately popular sport. It was most popular in the Georgian SSR; parts of the Russian SFSR such as Moscow and certain regions in Siberia like Krasnoyarsk; and Alma-Ata, the capital of the Kazakh SSR. Rugby enjoyed a more limited popularity in the Ukrainian SSR, Minsk in the Byelorussian SSR and parts of the RSFSR such as Leningrad and areas in Southern Russia, including Krasnodar. Rugby gained a significant following due to the vast size of the Soviet Union, but was never a major sport; despite many attempts to develop the sport, which Soviet citizens came to nickname the "leather melon" due to the shape of the ball. Still, an early championship in 1960 gives an idea of the sheer scale of Soviet rugby: one hundred teams from over thirty cities took part.
Rugby union in Belarus is a minor sport. They are currently affiliated to FIRA-AER.
Alexandre Tichonov is a former rugby union international who represented the Soviet Union in the 1980s and early 1990s. He had the distinction of being asked to play for the Barbarians on their Easter 1990 tour of Wales and was one of two Soviet players, along with Igor Mironov to play in the Rest of Europe XV in 1990 against the Four Home Unions XV at Twickenham Stadium.