x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Fast, physical and aggressive: rugby a game much to Russia's liking

Russia's first Rugby World Cup marks the biggest step yet in their designs to become a superpower in the sport.

Russia's first Rugby World Cup marks the biggest step yet in their designs to become a superpower in the sport.

The Russians have a plan, and it is picking up pace. When they knew their bid for the 2019 World Cup would not succeed, they withdrew and targeted the 2013 Sevens World Cup - and got it. This year, at the sevens in Hong Kong, Russia reached the quarter-finals for the first time at a major event.

Since sevens' new Olympic status brought aboard government support, the sport is being adopted by schools, and there is a professional league of eight teams.

They want rugby union to become a top-five sport in Russia, said Howard Thomas, the executive vice-president of the Rugby Union of Russia.

"When Russians sample rugby they enjoy it," he said, "It's a sport that's fast, physical, aggressive and skilled, and that's a Russian sportsman."

Thomas said they want to be one of the world's top 12 teams by 2015, and a quarter-finalist at the 2019 World Cup. And they are to bid for the 2023 tournament.

"We are on a high and now what we need to do is follow through," Thomas said. "We have got to show that we deserve to be at the World Cup. Everyone here understands we have got more difficult yards ahead of us than behind us."

Georgia will be making their third World Cup appearance. Since France 2007, they have proved to be the best side in Europe outside of the Six Nations teams. It is no surprise. All but seven of the 30-man squad ply their trade in France.

Steve Thompson, the England hooker, knows what they are capable of. "I have played with and against Georgians in France and they are great rugby players now," he said. "They've just got better and better. They are not just massive men and strong, but they are organised as well."

Meanwhile, Romania, the last team to qualify, could be one of the first heading home. They are missing Sorin Socol, the longtime captain, who withdrew from the team in a dispute with the coach Romeo Gontineac, and another 2007 veteran, the 22-try winger Catalin Fercu, who withdrew this week because of a fear of flying.