Ruck and Maul: Russia warms up for Sevens World Cup with TV and Tchaikovsky
High excitement at the London residence of the Russian Ambassador to the UK on Friday, as the Russian men's and women's teams were hosted by Mr Alexander Yakovenko ahead of this weekend's world sevens at Twickenham, to publicise the Rugby World Cup Sevens being hosted in Moscow in June 2013.
The Russians qualified for their first 15-a-side World Cup in New Zealand last autumn and interest in the game is growing, with the Six Nations B match against Spain in Moscow being shown on state television next Saturday.
With a little Tchaikovsky to set the mood in the refined surroundings of Kensington Palace Gardens, the Russian Rugby Federation (RRF) chairman, Vyacheslav Kopiev, told Ruck and Maul: "The Sevens World Cup is a big chance to promote rugby in Russia. We will use the Luzhniki Stadium, which has 80,000 seats so capacity won't be a problem. We also lobbied successfully to have rugby included in the World Student Games for the first time, in Kazan in July 2013."
Kopiev took up rugby as a student at Moscow University of Physics in the early 1970s. Now with 12 professional clubs and 40 playing as amateurs he sees the nationwide inter-schools competition as the highest priority to keep increasing rugby's popularity.
One downside: Russia competed alongside England Saxons in the Churchill Cup in 2010 and 2011 but have been obliged to enter the Nations Cup in Romania this year after the Churchill Cup ended. The RRF have asked the International Board to reconsider or come up with a competition of similar quality.
Jonny may not be on tour but...
Gloucester's Jonny May or Michael Claassens of Bath must surely win the Try of the Season award at the Rugby Players' Association dinner.
May's dashing breakout against Harlequins in February won the gong at the Premiership dinner last Tuesday, and as his and Claassens' score versus London Irish are the only tries among 13 on the two shortlists to appear on both, logic suggests they are the best.
But May's effort wasn't enough to earn him a spot on England's tour to South Africa this summer. The back-three places went to Chris Ashton, Mike Brown, Ben Foden, Alex Goode, Ugo Monye, David Strettle and Christian Wade.
Red Rose, not red wine for Catt
Mike Catt had decided to leave London Irish in February, long before the call came to join England as attack coach for the June tour to his native country. "I would have been putting my feet up, sampling some red wine and taking stock of how things went at London Irish," Catt said of the club who have also seen the head coach Toby Booth and scrum specialist Neal Hatley depart for Bath.
"This is not about me long term, this is about giving the England players exactly what they want to be successful in South Africa. All we're really going at is accuracy in execution of everything we do. I'd really like to get to know the players and get the best out of them. They need to be in the best state of mind they can be to take on the Springboks."
The trip has been likened to the one in 2000 when the same number of players (42) also played five matches, though with two Tests not three, and Catt played with Mike Tindall in the centres.
"The main comparison is the 2000 team had mostly been together for three years, whereas most of the current one have had about 10 weeks," said Catt. "Only three of this squad have toured to South Africa before. We're going to see how many of these guys can really handle the pressure. If you look at Danny Care, Lee Dickson and Ben Youngs at scrum-half, and your fly-halves Owen Farrell, Charlie Hodgson and Toby Flood, there's a lot of competition and I think that's brilliant."
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